Review: Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals

Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals
““Live From Mars””
(Virgin Records)

Years of touring have made this double disc inevitable. Disc One features the Innocent Criminals, while the second is just Harper and his guitar.  He has the frightening ability to make you feel exactly the way he wants you to feel, making the vast majority of other musicians seem detached and contrived by comparison. Judas Priest was put on trial for subliminal messages, while Harper walks free evoking his emotional turmoil. He’s responsible for “Roses From My Friends” – the only song that has ever made me cry. I have to change the station when his songs come on if I want to remain stable.  That said, maybe it’s the depth he can give his studio  recordings through careful production that seems to be missing from a few of the tracks. “Roses From My Friends” is stripped down to a simplified folk piece. It almost seems optimistic, reminding me more of heartache than heartbreak. Still, it’s pointless to compare, as these songs are all so different from album versions. He takes chances vocally on “Glory and  Consequence,” pushing just beyond his range, and drives “Ground On Down” and “Faded” harder than I expected. “Faded” disintegrates into a raw, distortion-saturated bog before rebuilding into Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.”  This is a must for any fan, but if you’re looking for your first Harper record, these stripped-down live arrangements might leave you hanging. Pick up  “The Will To Live” instead.