Music Reviews

Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals

Live From Mars

Virgin

Ben Harper and his backing band, The Innocent Criminals, have quietly become one of the most talked about and sought-after live acts in music today. They have been playing to a relatively small but extremely dedicated fan base around the world that responds to their shows with energy and enthusiasm normally only associated with religious fanaticism. For fans of Harper’s studio albums, his live performances infinitely expand on what has been recorded in the studio, and always include a tribute or two or three to his biggest influences, like Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, or Marvin Gaye. His concerts are full of unbridled energy and passion seldom seen by modern performers, and the musical styles range from the feedback-drenched “Ground On Down” and “Faded” to the soft, acoustic sounds of “Welcome to the Cruel World” and “Walk Away.”

Live From Mars is a two-disc collection that captures the finest moments of touring during the past two years. All songs have been remastered, and the quality is outstanding. Crowd noise has been kept to a minimum, except where necessary to capture the raw energy of the atmosphere. Source material comes from the four studio albums, rarities that never made it onto the albums, and several covers thrown in for good measure. Performances on disc one include the entire band and tend to be more high-energy and electric in nature, whereas the second disc consists only of solo acoustic performances by Harper.

Highlights of disc one include a cover of Marvin Gaye’s classic “Sexual Healing,” an extremely intense version of “Woman In You,” and the final track, “Faded,” in which the band segues into a thunderous version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Disc two takes the volume down a notch, but the music is no less intense. Highlights here include The Verve•s “The Drugs Don’t Work,” rarities “In the Lord’s Arms” and “Not Fire, Not Ice,” and the two songs which capture the epitome of Harper’s ethos, “Like A King” and “I’ll Rise,” which he seamlessly ties together for the grand finale.

While Ben Harper’s studio albums do well to showcase his talents, his true ability is only fully realized in a live environment, where he is free to spontaneously create new dimensions to his music and to re-interpret versions of other songs that inspire him. For fans of Harper’s studio recordings, Live From Mars is a must-have.

Virgin Records America, Inc., 338 N. Foothill Road, Beverly Hills, CA 90210; http://www.benharper.net.


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