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Rhythm of Life

Ben Harper
Rick Oliver

Post-modern Bluesman: Ben Harper plays LBC.

Ben Harper's will to live

By Sal Haldetica

IT'S THE NEXT STEP," says Ben Harper, while discussing the songs on his latest disc The Will to Live. "It's like crawling to walking to running to flying. Those are tough steps from one to the next." If the buzz surrounding this album is any indication, Harper and his band the Innocent Criminals have taken off in fine style.

From the electrifying "Faded" to the gems "Roses from My Friends" and "Glory & Consequences," Harper again is pushing through the envelope of his musical vision. The disc is drawing rave reviews and--cringe--prompting comparisons to folk-rock icon Bob Dylan and reggae superstar Bob Marley.

Of course, to hear Harper explain it, this album is just part of an ongoing musical evolution. "I can't keep making records like Welcome to the Cruel World," he says, referring to his bluesy 1994 debut. "I could, but I would never want to, because that's the challenge of making the records that I make. They are not in one particular rhythm. It goes in different rhythms and movements in each record, song to song, extremely.

"I could have just made an entire rock record or an entire ballad record or an entire soul record, but that's not my life. My life is different movements; it's different rhythms in my heart and in my mind."

Likewise, listeners can interpret them for themselves. "You can really hear into them quite well as far as what was going on either in my life, in my head, or in my heart," he explains. "It really doesn't matter, when it comes down to it, if it was something I lived through or something that I saw someone live through or something I read about. That doesn't matter; it was just an emotion at the time that was musically inspirational to me."

The songs that appear on this, his third release, were written during the band's nearly two-year tour to support Fight for Your Mind. That tour took them from north to south, from the United States to such faraway places as Turkey and New Zealand. Along the way he's been playing to a legion of fans that are hip to Harper's sound. "The crowds have been really, really receptive, excited, and know the music. It's a great joy to travel around the world and hear different languages sing the lyrics," he says.

Meanwhile, Harper's learned a bevy of musical and life lessons. "I've realized it's quite a challenge to go from record to record, because no one is going to paint the same picture every time; no one's going to take the same photograph and no one's going to make the same record. People evolve and they grow and their lives grow.

"The bottom line is that you really can't lose the firm grasp on the root of what it is you're doing; you can't lose grasp of the roots of where your music comes from. If you stay close to the root, then you really won't lose the feeling and the spirit of where your songs come from to begin with."

Ben Harper, plus Cool Bone, performs Sunday, July 27, at 8 p.m. at the Luther Burbank Center, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Tickets are $22.50. For information, call 546-3600.

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From the July 17-23, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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