They might say this artist is a little too mainstream for this blog and our tastes, and for the most part I might agree with “they”, but there is a reason Ben Harper’s Live from Mars, Disc 2 has been in my disc changer since 2001, and there certainly is no denying his chops as guitar player. Many of the acoustic numbers on that disc shepherded me through good and bad times alike, and even though the show at Birmingham’s Alabama Theatre was not totally acoustic, it was still extremely engaging nonetheless. Harper’s longevity hovering between the festival/jam band scene and moderate radio play can be attributed to his mastery of the guitar and his ardent voice. On his birthday, he dedicated this show to the Blind Boys of Alabama, starting out with the down-home gospel pew thumper in “Well, Well, Well”. Other highlights from the concert included “Excuse Me Mister”, “Welcome to the Cruel World”, a heart felt acoustic solo of “Walk Away”, and a fantastic rendition of Bill Withers’ “Use Me”, complete with long pause before picking up the last verse, a la Withers’ Live at Carnegie Hall album. A big HT to McCall for the photos.