Ben Harper's newest disc, Diamonds on the Inside, begins with the distant voices of musicians and producers bantering before the control room announces the recording process has begun.

Ben Harper's newest disc, Diamonds on the Inside, begins with the distant voices of musicians and producers bantering before the control room announces the recording process has begun. With a relaxed vibe established from the onset, Harper promptly launches into the sunny, optimistic reggae number "With My Own Two Hands." In the tradition of Bob Marley or Jimmy Cliff, the message here is to act on one's personal politics. The floorboard-stomping Delta blues anthem "When It's Good" heats up and then collapses into the dusty, gentle, Southern, rocking title track. Harper's delicate voice, a blend of Al Green with Cat Stevens, rests at the forefront of the song without overstepping the record's tight musicianship. Throughout Diamonds on the Inside, Harper's astounding vocal versatility and willingness to mine every style, from arena-sized guitar rock to Calypso, is both his greatest gift and his occasional weakness. Yet when the shuffling, pastoral Big Easy-inspired "When She Believes" hits your ears, it's easy to understand that Harper knows how to wring aching beauty from absolute simplicity.—AK