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Eternally groovy

Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals

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Ben Harper is one of our more enduring pop-musical talents, beloved by critics and record buyers alike. It's surprising, then, to find he's never had what Billboard would call a bona-fide, top-10 radio hit. The closest he's come thus far was "Steal My Kisses," a sweet little number that reached #15 on the "Adult Top 40" chart. (If the title seems unfamiliar, the repeated chorus won't: "I always have to steal my kisses from you.") It's been 17 years since that song hit radio but, like so much of Harper's music, it still fits into the summer-pop landscape. There's a timeless, eternally groovy quality to Harper's oeuvre that continues to claim prized real estate in MP3 players all over the world.

Perhaps that mellow timelessness is why Harper, sans radio-staple single, is still able to sell so many albums and win so many awards. He earned Grammys for "Best Pop Instrumental Performance" and "Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album" for 2004's There Will Be a Light (with The Blind Boys of Alabama) and a "Best Blues Album" Grammy for 2013's Get Up! (with Charlie Musselwhite). Get Up! debuted in the top spot on Billboard's blues-album chart and then stayed in the top 10 for months. At least 10 of his 13 studio albums reached gold- and platinum-level sales numbers all over the world. He's especially popular in Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands and New Zealand, and what do those places have in common? They're inherently chill, that's what.

Born in the L.A. exurb of Pomona in 1969, Benjamin Chase Harper played his first guitar gig at age 12. He came by his skill naturally, as his maternal grandparents owned a music shop called The Folk Music Center and Museum. Not only was Harper exposed to a wealth of music in its stacks, but the store's patrons included Leonard Cohen and Taj Mahal. The latter invited him to join a tour of Hawaii and perform on Mahal's 1990 album, Follow the Drinking Gourd. Harper paid that debt forward a decade later by getting Jack Johnson, whose music is spiritually similar to Harper's, a record deal, then recruited him to open Harper's tour a year later.

Vocally and tonally, Harper will remind many older listeners of the glory days of Nick Drake and Cat Stevens. The slowed heartbeat and gentle persuasions of his original compositions and Motown covers have been gracing movie and TV soundtracks since two Daria episodes in the late 1990s. Harper's current tour and most recent album, Call It What It Is, feature The Innocent Criminals, an outfit comprising drummers Oliver Charles and Leon Mobley, bassist Juan Nelson, guitarist Michael Ward and keyboardist Jason Yates. Each is a gifted session player in his own right. Charles and Ward were members of Gogol Bordello; Yates performed with Macy Gray and Natalie Merchant.

Again: groovy.

Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, 7:30 p.m. Fri., July 21, Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, $55-$129, 253.591.5890, broadwaycenter.org

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