"Burn To Shine" is a blues album for people who don't like blues music--and for some who do.
That's because Harper and his trio, the Innocent Criminals, ignore tried, tired and blue riffs in favor of different tones, textures and even instruments to create blues music that alludes to tradition without being constrained by it.
While the songs are seldom as interesting as the album's textured instrumental weave, Harper deserves credit for trying to break free of the cliches that have a stranglehold on the blues.
This time around he's recruited fellow lap slide guitarist David Lindley to supplement his own electric and acoustic guitar work, and enlisted the help of a jazz ensemble and a string quartet to flesh out other tunes that help form a patchwork of American sounds.
"Suzie Blue," complete with banjo and scratchy surface noise, instantly evokes images of the pre-Depression '20s. Hip-hop and soul guitar rhythms briefly merge on "Steal My Kisses." The sound of Memphis soul informs "Show Me A Little Shame," while Lindley's cameo on the album's spiritual coda, "In the Lord's Arms," brings the session to a comforting close. As in the past, Jimi Hendrix's influence looms large, too, especially on "Forgiven," but listening to Harper's sweet tenor voice and instrumental finesse, it's clear the blues still has a future.
Appearing Sunday at Bender Arena with Rahzel.
To hear a free Sound Bite from Ben Harper, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8125. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)