Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals "Call It What It Is"

In the past decade Ben Harper has worked with a variety of musicians. The Relentless 7 brought out a harder-edge to the laid-back musician on White Lies Dark Times. He got in touch with his spiritual side, recording with The Blind Boys of Alabama, and produced an album with legendary bluesman Charlie Musselwhite, picking up Grammy Awards for both efforts. He released a solo album and two years ago he recorded a folk album, Childhood Home, with his mother Ellen Harper. This year, after a nine-year hiatus, Harper re-teams with his original band The Innocent Criminals.

Call It What It Is captures the many facets that has made Ben Harper’s career both unpredictable and compelling. Genre-hopping from rock to blues to folk, from soul to reggae, he spotlights his wide interest in musical styles. His lyrical focus ranges from reflective to political, to romantic. The title track is ripped from the headlines, and deals with the death of young African men including Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.  “How Dark is Gone” is a social protest style in the vein of Richie Haven’s best work. Injustice is a key component to many of these songs. “Finding Our Way” begins with a damning of all politically motivated judges. It bounces along on Bob Marley inspired reggae rhythms. “When Sex Was Dirty” looks back on a more innocent time in the singer’s life, but it’s also a metaphor for societal priorities. Harper offers darker examinations of relationships, especially on “All that Has Grown, a contemplative ballad featuring the singer accompanying himself on slide guitar.

The Innocent Criminals are a tight unit who graft easily from genre to genre, sprouting multiple instruments to complement Mr. Harper’s musical mood.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)