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Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals 

Lifeline (Virgin)

Given the advances in digital studio equipment, cutting an album in analog can be both more difficult and more expensive. Ben Harper preferred the old-school experience, however, so he and his band laid down Lifeline fast and dirty using a sixteen-track console. The results are generally warm and welcoming, but they also prove that the quality of the songs is more important than the type of technology used to capture them. "Fight Outta You" is a case in point. Although the mix is beguiling, giving Jason Yates' organ uncommon richness and depth, the tune's juxtaposition of half-spoken verses and a perky chorus is clunky at best. Much better is "In the Colors," a gently soulful lope with vivid lyrics that Harper caresses with casual confidence. But like "Say You Will," "Put It on Me" and the other strong ditties on hand, it would sound just as fine had it been recorded using ProTools or the cheapest microphone at Radio Shack. That's the true tale of the tape.

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