Diamonds On The Inside

Even as he invokes folks such as Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix, Ben Harper turns rock cliches inside out until they mean something new again. The Black Crowes-damaged title track of Harper's fifth studio album — a lush sweep of twelve-string and pedal steel guitars — is sweeter than ninety percent of the cock rock that it echoes. Often, when Harper seems to be singing about some spangly rock chick, he's crooning about the Queen of Heaven — at least that's the case with "When She Believes," a lullaby that's all accordions, harps and fuzzy-blanket chords.

Harper works out of a tradition that is older than rock: the African-American church and its more secular members' tradition of blending gospel righteousness with pop grooves. "Brown Eyed Blues" is good wah-wah funk, but it's Harper's quavering, weak-with-lust vocal that makes it irresistible. He understands that pop music isn't just a parade of brand-new things — it's about reinvention, too.

On Diamonds on the Inside, Harper does better than that: He blows up like an inheritor and improves upon his influences with a few jewels of unique and exquisitely tender rock & roll.