Ben Harper's fifth studio album is apparently intended to sound familiar: you don't open an album with a Bob Marley tribute, segue into some Delta blues, and follow that with a Cat Stevens-style acoustic ballad if you're looking to shock the establishment.
Far from setting the Top Forty ablaze, the songs on Diamonds will probably be heard most often in concert, on Harper's upcoming summer tour with Jack Johnson. On a sunny day, these tunes will feel as reassuring and comfortable as the faded tie-dye you dug out of the closet for the occasion. Kids of all ages will boogie and sway along, and the purpose of these songs will be fulfilled.
But it's a strange definition of "authenticity" -- that supposedly rootsy, down-home value so cherished of the jam-band set -- that doesn't include the concept of originality. Surely Time-Life's Sounds of the Seventies collection isn't that hard to come by, and yet Harper performs his knock-offs so earnestly you'd think he were resuscitating some forgotten art, rather than aping tunes that are played 24/7 on oldies radio. Next to this, Lenny Kravitz is a paragon of innovation.
Still, Harper has a fine, expressive voice, the performances are spirited, and when he's steering clear of the schmaltz and working the groove, Diamonds is a pleasant listen. My advice: if you want to hear Harper's new album, buy a ticket to his show and enjoy the total experience; if you love the music he plays, save your money and seek out the originals.