Friday, December 28, 2007

Ben Harper And The Innocent Criminals - Lifeline

Ben Harper And The Innocent Criminals - Lifeline
Label - Virgin Records
Release Date - August 28th, 2007

I think the best way to describe Ben Harper is "respected." Lifeline is his eleventh release with the Innocent Criminals. All his releases have been critically acclaimed, making him well-known in the States and a superstar overseas. I'll be honest - I haven't heard most of this illustrious back catalogue. But I do know that I've seen this band play a handful of times, and each time has completely mesmerized me.

Because of this, I jumped at the opportunity to review Lifeline. I slid the disc into my stereo and was enveloped by the fluid, easygoing, reggae-based tunes. The inside of the CD's slipcase proudly proclaims that "Lifeline was recorded and mixed in 7 days on a 16-track analog tape machine. No computers or pro-tools were used anywhere in the process."

That's quite a feat these days in music, and it points to a love of the essential qualities of music, and that's exactly what Lifeline delivers. The album begins with an acoustic guitar and bare percussion on "Fight Outta You", leading into gravelly opening lines from Harper. You feel like you ought to be sitting barefoot on the porch in the summer. For those of you more indie or country oriented, imagine a more soulful rendition of Wilco's Summerteeth album.

The breezy vibe continues with "In The Colors," a loving song in which Harper pleads come and dance with me, and you really want to. The lyrics aren't full of long words or complex metaphors, but they are honest - more real than any band that takes itself too seriously and thinks they're going to change the world.

"Needed You Tonight" puts the piano high in the mix, and Harper belts out the words over the jangly melody. The song feels vaguely familiar, but Harper's immediacy and urgency makes the emotions fresh. "Say You Will" is the most musically upbeat track, beginning acapella and continues bouncing through similes:

like Marie Antoinette said to Louis XVI
man, I think we're going down
our chances are slim and none
and I'm afraid slim just left town

The whole song is backed by a female choir repeating the chorus and adding well-placed "shoops."

Harper slows it back down then with "Younger Than Today," a bittersweet nostalgic song. However, he immediately picks back up with the catchy guitar riffs of "Put It On Me."

"Paris Sunset #7" is a beautiful instrumental track that sounds exactly as its title implies. It's full of delicate acoustic guitar, and sinks further down the octaves as the song progresses, eventually bleeding into the final track, "Lifeline." The title track is reminiscent of Damien Rice or Elliott Smith - a faint acoustic guitar underneath the quavering vocals of a man desperately reaching out.

Lifeline is a thoroughly enjoyable album. While not the most technically innovative or lyrically complex, it's still moving and at times, intense. Save this one for next summer, when you're floating in the pool drinking lemonade.

01. Fight Outta You
02. In The Colors *
03. Fool For A Lonesome Train
04. Needed You Tonight
05. Having Wings
06. Say You Will *
07. Younger Than Today
08. Put It On Me
09. Heart Of Matters
10. Paris Sunset #7 *
11. Lifeline

* - standout tracks

For Fans Of: Donavon Frankenreiter, John Butler Trio, Ben Harper and the Blind Boys Of Alabama

Listen At: Website | MySpace

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

EOTY List 2007

This year it was really difficult for me to put together an end of the year list. There were just so many great albums released. Everything is open for discussion - feel free to ask me why I placed something where I did or whatever. I also know that I just didn't get around to listening to everything released this year, so if you feel that I have a glaring omission, please tell me so I can find it and hear it. Thanks, and enjoy the list!

Best Albums
01. Jimmy Eat World – Chase This Light
02. Say Anything – In Defense Of The Genre
03. Lovedrug – Everything Starts Where It Ends
04. Feist – The Reminder
05. Straylight Run - The Needles, The Space
06. Anberlin - Cities
07. Every Time I Die – The Big Dirty
08. The Rocket Summer – Do You Feel
09. Dustin Kensrue – Please Come Home
10. Four Year Strong – Rise Or Die Trying
11. Coconut Records - Nighttiming
12. Chase Pagan – Oh, Musica!
13. Portugal. The Man – Church Mouth
14. Everybody Else – Everybody Else
15. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
16. Beirut – The Flying Club Cup
17. Saves The Day – Under The Boards
18. Relient K – Five Score And Seven Years Ago
19. Fall Out Boy – Infinity On High
20. Sherwood – A Different Light

Most Disappointing
01. The Academy Is… - Santi
02. Cartel - Cartel
03. Cobra Starship – Viva La Cobra!
04. The Receiving End Of Sirens – The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi
05. The Spill Canvas – No Really, I’m Fine
06. Armor For Sleep – Smile For Them
07. Waking Ashland – The Well
08. Limbeck - Limbeck
09. Paramore – Riot!
10. Envy On The Coast - Lucy Gray

Best Songs
01. Anberlin - *fin
02. Feist - The Water
03. Dustin Kensrue - Blood & Wine
04. Brand New - Fork And Knife
05. Lovedrug - Salt Of The Earth
06. As Tall As Lions - Into The Flood
07. Kanye West - Stronger
08. Portugal. The Man - Telling Tellers Tell Me
09. Jimmy Eat World - Let It Happen
10. Relient K – Deathbed
11. Melee - Frequently Baby
12. Against Me! - White People For Peace
13. Wilco - Impossible Germany
14. New Atlantic - Wire & Stone
15. Coconut Records - Nighttiming
16. Say Anything - That Is Why
17. The Rocket Summer - So Much Love
18. Radiohead - Bodysnatchers
19. Stacy Clark - Empty Bottles
20. All Time Low - Dear Maria, Count Me In
21. Ryan Adams - Two
22. Paramore - Misery Business
23. Rihanna - Umbrella
24. Holiday Parade – Driving Away
25. Saves The Day – Turning Over In My Tomb

Keep Your Eye On
01. We Shot The Moon
02. Rosie Thomas
03. Everybody Else
04. Holiday Parade
05. Brighten
06. The Morning Light
07. Modern Skirts
08. The New Frontiers
09. Cavil At Rest
10. Pictures In Pieces

Most Anticipated
01. Brand New
02. As Tall As Lions
03. The New Frontiers
04. Pictures In Pieces
05. Saves The Day
06. Glassjaw
07. Jack’s Mannequin
08. The Matches
09. The Reign Of Kindo
10. City And Colour

Sunday, December 2, 2007

12.2.07 recs

These are all artists who played at Folkfest at my school last night.

Doug Cheatwood And The Bastards Of Fate.
One of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. Cheatwood was rolling around on the ground, pies were thrown at the audience, and there were crazy lights and fog. I can't quite tell if they're geniuses or just insane.
For Fans Of: Portugal. The Man, The Drugstore Cowboys, Bear Vs. Shark.

Red Clay River.
Good old-fashioned bluegrass/country, heavy on the moonshine. Vocalist Daniel Bivins has a gritty voice reminiscent of Tom Waits, and the group of them are perfect when it comes to harmonizing and stomping their feet.
For Fans Of: Tom Waits, Harry McClintock, The Cox Family

Ced Hughes.
Performing under the name Shoot The Moon last night with a friend as a DJ and Kid A on backup vocals, Ced Hughes has a bouncy, in your face style of hip hop that uses beats from Interpol, Justice, and Amy Winehouse, just to name a few.
For Fans Of: Kanye West, Consequence, Jay-Z