The long-awaited live album from Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, Live from Mars, has arrived, and it proves the wait was well worth the while. Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals use the live setting to enhance and expand upon their studio albums.
The evolution and growth of the band has been an enduring process in the studio, as they explored the worlds of harder, soulful rock to funky, delta blues, along with intimate folk. For Harper, it seems the live experience has been the real source of creative energy for the band, in which the connection between artist and listener is the most direct, allowing the band to reach new heights.
On Live from Mars, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals draw together all of their previous albums to make a powerful culminating statement on their ability to communicate through music. The listener can truly experience the emotional fervor and earnestness of Ben’s ingenious guitar and vocal styling, the rocking beats of the drummer, Dean Butterworth, the playful percussion of David Leach, and the funky, ever-present bass of Juan Nelson.
Fittingly, the album begins with “Glory and Consequences,” a deeply personal song that comments on Harper’s ascendancy as a poet, vocalist, and guitarist. “I am more afraid of falling, than I am of flying high … Every bell has its glory, and consequences,” he sings. From the upbeat, triumphant sound of this song, the intense yodel of Harper’s voice, and the furious instrumentation of the Criminals, it is clear that the band is doing their best to achieve their own rightful glory.
Harper and the Criminals’ songs express a yearning for everything from a more conscientious world in “Excuse Me Mister,” to a kiss from a new love in “Steal My Kisses.” Yet the lyrical versatility of the band is rather impressive, as is their variety of tunes and styles.
Soulful blues and funky rock characterize the first disc, while Ben’s solo folk guitar work characterizes the second disc. Although Ben’s folk work is moving, many songs seem quite similar and it can become monotonous. I would prefer less of Harper’s solo work and more jam songs from the entire band.
Nevertheless, throughout the entire album, you can experience the palpable, raw feeling of a great concert. Even more powerfully, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals tie together all of their studio albums into a complex unity of musical identity, making this album a great choice for the seasoned fan or the newcomer.
Archived article by Andrew Gilman