It took Ben Harper nine years to reconvene the Innocent Criminals for 2016's Call It What It Is, but that's not necessarily an abnormally long time for this crew: eight years separated its 2007 predecessor Lifeline from their 2009 debut, Burn to Shine. Harper formed the Innocent Criminals partially with the intention that they'd be his Band of Gypsies, a support system for him to indulge in his Jimi Hendrix daydreams, but they wound up being an even better outlet for his soulful side. Despite "Pink Balloon" and the ham-fisted opener "When Sex Was Dirty" – bluesy bluster that pulls this closer to Lenny Kravitz than Hendrix – Call It What It Is is largely devoted to this blissed-out, mellow vibe.
For what it is, this is the best there is. What it is is two discs of encores recorded in the mid-'40s for American Decca by Jascha Heifetz, the man some would say was the greatest violin virtuoso of the twentieth century. Every performance, every phrase, heck, every note is absolutely stunning, full of the kind of flash and brilliance and artistry you just don't hear anymore. This may sound like an absurd exaggeration, but just try any track at random – they're all consistently amazing. Try the extravagant technique of Benjamin's Jamaican Rumba or the hilarious wit of Rossini's Figaro or the sentimental warmth of Berlin's White Christmas or the ingratiating nostalgia of Foster's Old Folks at Home or the deep blues of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess or the insouciant swing of Weill's Mack the Knife or exquisite sensuality of Chopin's Nocturne.