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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Harper Takes House of Blues Crowd on Eclectic Journey

August 17, 1995|STEVE APPLEFORD

Ben Harper is a virtuoso with purpose, a slide guitarist whose message is as much verbal as it is musical. The man even builds his own guitars, and makes music that draws from the spiritual legacies of Robert Johnson, Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder.

At his performance on Tuesday at the House of Blues, Harper and his band traveled from explosive blues tunes to moments of funk, folk, jazz and reggae. Harper may have rarely left his chair (keeping a slide guitar securely across his lap), but his sometimes frantic fretwork was enough visual stimulus for the packed room.

As on his new "Free Your Mind" album, much of the music played by this 25-year-old from the Inland Empire included spiritual underpinnings and outright religious conviction. For his encore, Harper appeared with a string quartet for a delicate reading of his "Power of the Gospel," his voice at times a near falsetto.

Some of these quieter moments were unfortunately lost amid the club's perpetual murmur. But he usually found a quick remedy with one of his charged blues sprints or, later in the two-hour concert, by diving into the explosive drama of Wonder's "Superstition."

Likewise, bassist Juan Nelson was a commanding presence (enough so to launch Harper repeatedly out of his chair during the lengthier bass solos), weaving dramatic funk and other styles into a worthwhile break from Harper's action.

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