Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals Lifeline

Having now become one of the most popular touring acts in the world, Harper and his band laid down this latest album live in a Paris studio immediately after their last global excursion. Naturally, then, Lifeline crackles with the funky spontaneity of the sextet’s stage show, although Harper himself leans more toward his singer-songwriter side, rather than his more common image as a slide guitar wizard. While this causes the album as a whole to creep along at a slower pace, songs like "Fool For A Lonesome Train” and "Younger Than Today” have more lasting resonance. And unlike some of his past work, Harper doesn’t seem bent on making any big political statements. Instead, he and the band have settled into a deep country-soul groove that reflects a lot of musical maturity. Sure, long-time fans might miss some of Harper’s original bluesy fire but Lifeline is a consistently rewarding collection of songs that still retain a positive message worthy of Harper’s soul heroes. (Virgin/EMI)