The Show: Wednesday, April 24, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Granada Theater,

By Ken Shimamoto

It’s been awhile now since Ben Harper’s “big” record, 1999’s Burn to Shine. Since then, he’s taken some time off, hooked up with actress Laura Dern, fathered a son, been the subject of a video documentary (Pleasure and Pain, out now on DVD), and worked on a c.d., the newly released Diamonds on the Inside.

For a decade now, Harper’s been pounding the boards on the college jam-band circuit, channeling Robert Johnson, Marvin Gaye, and Bob Marley in front of audiences that teethed on Blues Traveler, Phish, and the Dave Matthews Band. With his blend of groove, soul, blues, and acoustic singer-songwriter angst, he’s almost like a tattooed version of the more Bass Hall-friendly Keb’ Mo’.

And yet, and yet. Experienced road dog that Harper is, he still seemed strangely diffident while fronting legendary Detroit studio band the Funk Brothers in last year’s Standing in the Shadows of Motown documentary; in contrast, Joan Osborne came across like Aretha Franklin. Sure, Harper’s music is warm, spiritual, and sexy, but it also makes one somewhat nostalgic for the likes of Terence Trent D’Arby, a similar-sounding vocalist who briefly flashed across the late-’80s sky with only a fraction of Al Green’s vocal chops but all of his assurance (and hooks). After all, what’s a soul man without sass and spunk?

Those reservations aside, fans will be happy to discover that Diamonds contains fewer concessions to commerce than anything else Virgin is likely to release this year — meaning that it’s as all-over-the-map stylistically as Harper’s other discs, unified by his mellow vibe and persona. As hard as it is these days to find uncompromising music with this much heart, you might just want to join the tie dye-and-patchouli brigade for this one.

Tue at the Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville Ave, Dallas. 214-824-9933.


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