New on CD: Dave Matthews and Ben Harper
Matthews sparks energy in his collaboration with Tim Reynolds, but Ben Harper's 'Lifeline' is lifeless.
Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds – Live at Radio City (ATO/RCA) : Here's an intimate set straight from New York to your living room stereo. "Live at Radio City Music Hall" is made up of both classic and new Dave Matthews Band tunes. It also includes solo material, such as a fearless performance of "Some Devil" that showcases Matthews's signature falsetto. Guitarist Tim Reynolds accompanies Matthews without overshadowing him, providing precise – and only occasionally spacey – guitar licks. On "Crush," Reynolds frantically moves up and down the frets, into a space where saxophone and violin usually stand. But there's nothing missing here, even without the rest of the band. And the new tunes, from the twangy "Cornbread" to the heartfelt "Sister," redeem the singer from the simplistic 2005 release "Stand Up." Grade: A
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals – Lifeline (Virgin) : Harper's latest disc, "Lifeline," focused mainly on bluesy ballads, is in serious need of a jolt. Although the album gathers speed with the slow groove "In the Colors," where Harper sweetly croons "Dance with me into the colors of the dusk," the gospel-infused "Say You Will" features weak backup singers that fail to inspire – a problem for the whole album. Song arrangements lack the sort of energy and vigor displayed in Harper's previous releases – there's no beatboxing here – just simple chord progressions that makes one yearn for Harper's previous efforts. Grade: C