Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals' new CD, Lifeline. Harper performs with such intimacy on this folk-rock disc that you'll swear he's singing and strumming in your living room. Best is the title track, a stripped-bare thing of acoustic beauty.
After singing backup with husband Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band for the past 23 years, Patti Scialfa surely couldn't help but pick up a thing or two from the Boss. She does exude a similar wordy, wistful, introspective vibe, but a skillful mix of roots-rock, country, folk and soul give Scialfa, who wrote all 10 tracks on Play It As It Lays, a sound uniquely her own. The highlights on this, her third solo disc, are many - namely the up-temp "Rainy Day Man," "The Word," a bluesy song of betrayal, and the melancholy title track. "Black Ladder," is a sweetly soulful plea for affection.
There's no evidence of dysfunction on the second album, Combinations, by Eisley, a family band. Anchored by sisters Sherri and Stacy, Eisley builds on the pop feel with new influences like Evanescence and '70s-era Fleetwood Mac. The breakup ballad "Go Away,' with its instructive chorus, seems destined for the soundtrack of some MTV reality show. The best song, "Ten Cent Blues," could easily pass as a track from Rumours, whose 1977 release predates Eisley's oldest member by four years.