Picks and Pans Review: The Will to Live

updated 08/04/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/04/1997 01:00AM

Ben Harper

On his remarkable third album, this 27-year-old singer-guitarist proves he has never met a musical style he doesn't like. Rural blues, reggae, funk, folk, country—Harper's goal seems to be to master them all. The electrifying "Faded" sounds as if Mississippi Delta legend Robert Johnson plugged in Jimi Hendrix's Stratocaster and learned to wail; with its wah-wah guitar riff and propulsive horn solos, "Mama's Trippin' " is like a '70s Sly Stone dance groove; the gentle "Widow of a Living Man" could be a Cat Stevens outtake. What keeps this musical mosaic together is Harper's pleasingly mellow vocal style and seemingly sincere (if at times unoriginal) lyrics about lost love and spiritual longing. On The Will to Live, Harper's impassioned artistry offers the perfect antidote to much of today's glib pop. (Virgin)

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