Prodding the Spirit

If Ben Harper held a séance with just his Weissenborn guitar and the songs from his latest release, Burn to Shine, he could conjure up the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Hank Williams Sr., and Blind Willie McTell. Harper has been compared to these musicians whose legacies stretch through the century before Harper and his band, The Innocent Criminals, had their first release in 1994.

Harper’s instrument of choice, the Weissenborn, produced only in the 1920s, has a hollow neck, no frets, and is played across the lap like a slide guitar. It is one link between Harper’s current music and the roots music—blues, soul, spirituals, rock, and vintage country—that influenced him as the child of musician parents and grandparents.

The lyrics of this writer, musician, poet, and (some say) prophet are National Public Radio-meets-Rolling Stone. I wouldn’t know where to find him on FM radio—the lower 80s of public and college radio stations or in upper 100s of modern rock stations. As his recording and touring career continues, you’ll likely find him on many channels—a worrisome prospect for ardent fans. "An intimacy one has with a musician through his music can be too easily lost when the artist becomes increasingly popular, and consequently, overplayed and overglorified," said a friend who first introduced me to Harper’s music.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2000
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