It was 1995 when a friend gave me the usual "Dude, you have to hear this" about his latest aural love affair. The song he stuck on the stereo turned out to be "Mama's Got a Girlfriend," off Ben Harper's debut album, Welcome to the Cruel World. The lyrics caused no small amount of laughter, while the music left me reasonably impressed. I went out and bought the album. I've been a fan of the man ever since.
Ensuing albums have only proven that Cruel World was no fluke. Every subsequent record includes a couple of real gems and absolutely zero filler, with Harper's signature Weissenborn lap guitar adding a unique sound to every effort. Fight for Your Mind offered a religious tune or two ("Power of the Gospel," "God Fearing Man"), as well as "Burn One Down," the greatest weed anthem since Peter Tosh told everyone to legalize it. He put out one more record, 1997's Will to Live, before finally catching some radio airtime with "Steal My Kisses" from 1999's Burn to Shine. The radio interest was sadly short-lived. Leave it to radio to abandon a monstrously talented artist such as Harper in favor of, say, Britney Spears or Puddle of Mudd.
Harper's backing band, the Innocent Criminals, are up to the task of playing hand-in-hand with the singer/guitarist/songwriter, who has endured many hyperbolic comparisons to Jimi Hendrix. Every over-the-top compliment gets treated with Harper's usual humility, including the heaps of praise for his latest effort, this year's Diamonds on the Inside. Which leaves us wondering, is there anything wrong with this guy?
As if Harper alone weren't enough, Jacksonville's finest, Mofro, opens for the man. With a sort of Southern-boogie style and songs that center on life in the swamps and strip malls of Florida, the band proves particularly effective when in front of a South Florida crowd -- after all, you've got swamps just to the west and, chances are, a strip mall right in your own backyard.