'Life' Goes On

Technically speaking, Ben Harper's new record, "Lifeline," due this week on Virgin, was recorded during a single lively week in the artist's Paris home base. But it was truly born during two months' w

Technically speaking, Ben Harper's new record, "Lifeline," due this week on Virgin, was recorded during a single lively week in the artist's Paris home base. But it was truly born during two months' worth of sound checks on a European tour by Harper and his band the Innocent Criminals.

"It all hit me in a split second," Harper says. He explains that he was "basically tired of mundane sound checks. We were at the end of an eight-month run, about to start a two-month tour, and I thought, 'We own our own sound system, amps, speakers -- everything you want when you're bringing music to life. But when you get to sound check, you're playing the same material. This can't stand.'"

So Harper and his band hatched a plan: Each member would come to sound check with song ideas that they would refine before the show. "The operative term was 'acoustic soul,' " Harper says of the record's framework. "'Soul' meaning anything from Motown to Blind Willie Johnson. And we said, 'What do you got? Throw it out.'"

"Lifeline" finds Harper and his Innocent Criminals -- drummer Oliver Charles, percussionist Leon Mobley, bassist Juan Nelson, guitarist Michael Ward and keyboardist Jason Yates -- at their most thematically united. Though there are tastes of gravel-road blues ("Needed You Tonight"), gospel ("Say You Will"), soulful anthems ("Heart of Matters") and subtle but sharp calls to arms ("Fight Outta You"), there's a certain organic unity to its sound.