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Ben Harper

As a full-blown addict of Ben Harper's 1995 album Fight for Your Mind, I was pumped to get my hands on his latest release, Burn to Shine. Harper is my favorite musician to listen to as 'background for life'-dynamic but not overbearing, passionate but relaxing. He's a talented, underrated and underplayed musician, a more soulful respite from the ubiquitous Dave Matthews or edgier Lenny Kravitz.

Thankfully, Burn to Shine is a very aptly titled CD-although the first three songs are very disappointing and begging to be burned, Harper eventually treats us to his shining versatility and talent. The rest of the album successfully displays the range and creativity of Harper's music. From the ragtime jazz feel of "Suzie Blue" to the gospel influenced "Show Me a Little Shame," he works respectfully within the styles, still maintaining his own integrity as a unique musician. His voice is dynamic deep in the chorus of "My Beloved One," while tongue-in-cheek through "Steal My Kisses." Burn to Shine is a very well produced CD employing a variety of instruments, techniques and nuances, but these supplements never overshadow the core of the music-a talented man and his guitar.

As on his previous albums, the lyrics are very simple, sometimes bordering on cliché, as in "Two Hands of a Prayer," where he sings "She was a stranger that I had known for years/ she brought me so many smiles and tears." It may sound trite, but sometimes it's within this verbal nakedness that Ben Harper is at his most poignant and intimate. There's an honesty to Harper's music that is hard to find these days. Perhaps that's why I hated the first songs so much-they felt very forced.

My advice: If you are already a big fan of Ben Harper, buy the CD. Simply pretend it starts on track 4. If you're unfamiliar with Ben Harper, buy his second CD Fight for Your Mind, a great album that truly gets better every time you listen to it.

-By Beth Iams


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