The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Harper’s new double disc takes aim with a strong voice

Ben Harper is back and he’s taking prisoners. His laser sight is pointing red dots at the heads of political issues and the safety is off.

As if his Grammy-winning collaboration with the Blind Boys of Alabama never happened, or his “Diamonds on the Inside” titled studio album was never released, Harper seems to pick up right after his “Live from Mars” double disc album in his newest, “Both Sides of the Gun.” They are similar in that one disc has softer songs and the other has thicker, edgier songs.

After listening to both discs on “Gun,” I was unsure as to which disc was the trigger-pulling side and which side was the bullet-receiving side. Maybe the sides are about the “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” life we live?

In any case, with Harper, his acoustic songs can do just as much damage to your heart and soul as his louder, more electric songs.

In a time in which music in almost every genre is digitally altered in someway, it’s great to hear live instrumentation, harmonies and a conscious awareness where hooks, bridges and choruses should be placed. That’s what Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals have been firing with for more than 10 years.

The band’s easy movement throughout the years of combining different types of genres in music, from gospel to reggae and rock to funk, has always been my favorite aspect of their style. “Gun” still delivers this, plus some.

With a less full-sounding accompaniment in some of the songs on the first ballad-inspired disc, Harper’s voice is layered with violins and cellos most of the time, which is not surprising coming from this classically influenced musician.

In the ballad, “Picture in a Frame,” the loneliness of a memory trapped in a photo is easily described as only Harper could. His Bob Dylan-like lyrics are poignant and heart-provoking.

Ben Harper is simple. His lyrics attack you, mostly your memory. In the simple song “More Than Sorry” Harper’s voice and guitar are the only two combined instruments that can apologize this well.

The second disc drives faster with a thicker-sounding experience.

The first song of the second disc, “Better Way,” is a treat with an eastern-inspired theme. The electric slide guitar and sitar mingle together and deliver a wonderful blend. The lyric “Reality is sharp and punching me like a knife/ everyone I know is in the fight of their lives” in the song is screamed, almost screeched, at the top of his lungs.

The discs clearly contrast complete contrast each other.

On the song “Black Rain,” Harper has the safety off and takes aim at the Hurricane Katrina situation, pointing red dots at the administration. He sings, “You left them swimming for their lives / Down in New Orleans / Can’t afford a gallon of gasoline / With your useless degrees and contrary statistics / This government business is straight up sadistic.”

The title track is straight funk. It’s a call out to a classic ’70s era only the Innocent Criminals could do. “Serve Your Soul” is the thickest rock song on the second disc.

The album’s goal of putting you in completely two different moods, both somber and bright, is achieved.

Yohana Figueroa can be reached at

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