Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals

Ben Harper's been nothing if not eclectic during his career, often pursuing a funky acoustic vibe but also rocking out and reflecting influences including the Stones, Bob Marley, Hendrix, and a variety of soul stirrers. But following some close associations with gospel icons the Blind Boys of Alabama, he seems to have settled into a definite Southern soul and gospel thang on his just-released new one, Lifeline (Virgin). Not only does he sound more than ever like Otis Redding, with a fine-sandpapery voice dripping with Tupelo honey, but nearly every song has a slithery groove that seems to have been hatched in Memphis or Muscle Shoals. Jason Yates conjures up lots of revival piano to drive the music, and dollops of gospel hang like Spanish moss. The album was recorded in only a week following a long European tour, so the band seems especially tight, and Harper's lyrics hit with similarly effortless grace. Tasty grooves, good songs, compelling soulfulness: a clear winner. Opening will be Piers Faccini, a Paris-based Englishman whose whispery vocals suggest fathomless complexities of life and love in a context of English folk crossed with blues and subtle international influences, ancient and modern.
Mon., Sept. 3, 7:30 p.m.

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