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ISSUE 116 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/14/2003

Harper proves his talent in 'Diamonds'

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, March 14, 2003

Perhaps if Ben Harper had the massive media and promotional money that Dave Matthews or Sheryl Crow have, he would be just as popular. His somewhat minor star status certainly is not a reflection of a lack of talent, as Harper’'s newest album “Diamonds on the Inside,” brilliantly taps into Harper’'s ability to make the song, not the artist, the focal point of music.

“Diamonds” is Harper’'s most consistent effort since 1995's “Fight for Your Mind” due in no small part to Harper’'s growing role in the production process. The album flows along, each song relying on the same Marley/Dylan vibe that somehow never comes off as cliche or contrived. While “Diamonds” is anything but a departure for Harper, the musicianship on “Diamonds” more than makes up for its relatively comfortable groove.

Harper examines the validity of love and life, and often strays into darker material. Songs like “"Touch From Your Lust"” creep in like a fog and have a very mechanical and manufactured sound, heavy on synths and high on tension.

Harper can never quite shed his Marley type preaching, and on “"With My Own Two Hands”" he delivers his most rastafied melody to date. It is almost spooky how similarly Harper and Marley compose and sing. Harper doesn'’t quit there, infusing “"Run Eyed Blues"” with a Caribbean bass line that screams Kingston hurt and bleeds Jamaican passion.

Harper doesn’'t forget to pay homage to Americana, and songs like “"When It'’s Good"” stomp along with an Appalachian flair, finding themselves in near Copeland style fanfare by their climax.

“When She Believes” is classic old time Ballad material, as Harper strays into gospel style orchestration. This isn'’t enough to add Perry Como to Harper’'s influences, but it is schmaltzy enough to rot your teeth.

However, it is when Harper goes to his strengths that his best music flows out of him. On the title track, Harper almost jeers, “"When you have everything, you have everything to loose.”" Harper hasn'’t changed from the frustrated, hopeless romantic that told us all to fight for our minds nearly a decade ago. His ability to define and convey that frustration and passion in eloquent and broad musical strokes puts him in a class with the greats of today.

Diamonds on the Inside” is a dramatic and moving swan song, unstained and as of yet, unspoiled.

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