‘Diamonds on the Inside’ – Ben Harper.
I have a silly habit where every time I get paid, I buy three CD’s (I’m working on the collection). My local music store has a big tray of older / over stocked CD’s in the front of the store selling for $10.00 each, and that’s my heaven on earth. I like to buy CD’s by artists who I might have heard a couple of songs from, but don’t really know much of their stuff. Ben Harper was one of those artists many years ago and has now become one of my very favourite artists.
During one of my many splurges of self indulgence a few years ago, I came across the album ‘Diamonds on the Inside’ by Ben Harper. What an epiphany!
I was driving with a friend in his roughed up old Ute on the way home from the music store, and as I pushed in the CD and track one began I felt totally at peace with the world; where I was, who I was with, what I was listening to, the wind coming in through the open windows, the smell of my friends cigarette, the bush rushing past us, and the smell of salty water was so in time with where I was mentally and emotionally, it felt like I had found a piece of the puzzle that fits. Everything just mellowed out into this slow reggae groove.
The album begins with the track; ‘With My Own Two Hands’, which has this deeply chilled and smooth sound, its just incredible. The album is very well produced. It’s Tight. It’s classic.
Ben uses so many different layers of sound in this album, but not too many so that the song becomes confusing or hard to listen to. He’s great in that he has discipline when creating music, but not too much so that he withholds playfulness and ‘jam’. There is no shortage of variety in this album at all; you have the harder stuff like ‘So High So Low’ and softer stuff like ‘When She Believes’; it’s a hot and cold album in this respect. There are short sections throughout the album where he brings in this groovy EPiano and just rips it up;‘Run Eyed Blues’ for example.
I have developed a lot of respect for Ben Harper as an artist and a musician through listening to this album. He has this resounding message from beginning to end. He is obviously and quite proudly a man of God. I have a few Christian albums that I listen to quite frequently, and I must point out that it has been refreshing to listen to something that has such a good message but is also unique and quite funky (unlike a lot of Christian bands (not naming any) that have the same sound and don’t incorporate much range). This album is ‘peppy’, raw, smooth, distorted, catchy, deep, very easy listening and has this underlying element of funky reggae. If you are familiar with ‘John Lee Hooker’, I really feel that there is quite a lot of that rusty, raw and bouncy guitar implemented in this album also; ‘When it’s Good’ as an example of this.
The album holds a lot of surprises and no two songs are the same at all! Ben is exceptionally good with a guitar, and uses a lot of technicality to achieve maximum awesomeness. The other instruments aren’t a ‘stand out’, but they are still played very well by some really talented musicians. The base however can be quite technical at times using a bit of slap and incorporating a few big slides (this is quite good fun). All of a sudden you’ll hear this huge ‘slide’ or funky riff burst off this base in the middle of a steady jam, and it immediately puts a huge smile on your face; ‘Bring the Funk’ and ‘Run Eyed Blues’ are classic examples. The drums can be quite syncopated at times also which really adds to the groove factor . The musicians that Ben uses in his band really know their way around their instruments! Compliments.
There is one slight criticism that I would make on this album, and that would probably be the order in which the songs are placed. It may only be a personal thing, but I prefer hearing a quiet song and then a more ‘peppy’ song one after the other in that pattern; for me this just makes for easy listening. When I reached a certain point on the album, I tended to skip a few songs and then skip back so that I could have that variety; it’s a personal thing, I’m probably just being picky.
I would recommend this album to anyone who has great appreciation for not only music, but for musicians. Ben has no genre, he does what comes naturally whether that be, funk, reggae, rock, acoustic etc. Ben Harper has entered my hall of fame.
Overall, I would probably give this album THREE and a HALF STARS (possibly four… I could listen to this album over and over).