Double LP £31.99 BELLAV421
Deluxe gatefold 2LP + CD on Bella Union w/ etching on side 4.
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CD £5.99 BELLACD421
Digipak CD on Bella Union.
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My knowledge of this legendary British folkie extends to a couple of cursory listens to key albums over the years, the classic 'Flat Baroque and Berserk' being a particularly enjoyable, impassioned listen although I recall the overarching worthiness and his reedy voice grating slightly towards the conclusion. I always preferred the lady folkies see, such as Anne Briggs, Sandy Denny et al.
So imagine my surprise at just how much I've gleaned from cocking an ear to his new album on esteemed indie Bella Union. Roy Harper is 72 now and this is his first outing for 13 years. Unlucky for some maybe, not for us, for this is gorgeous, stirring stuff, his voice richer and seemingly more sage-like in its Autumn years. His lyrics are electrifying, rousing and touching for starters and the seven tracks offered up here to established fans and the undoubted plethora of fresh young converts are largely wonderful things to behold.
Opening with 'The Enemy', which bears an un-uncanny resemblance to classic 'Wish You Were Here' era Floyd, this track is a real political call-to-arms, true poetry from a grand master, a warm, easy-flowing country rock backing that spills with intimacy. But the music is merely a sparkling backdrop to the real joy that is his righteous and engaging voice. Just commands attention does this song. If you've read of his history then you'll know he's very disparaging of government and authority, much more so than much of our vacuous youth today. Listen to Grandpops: he tells it like it is, with style. Some lovely naturalistic trails of understated riffing and soloing make this track a blinding introduction.
'Time is Temporary' follows; a lulling, finger-picked acoustic backing frames a lovely vocal performance that is almost as beautiful as Nick Drake, some lush brooding strings, especially the cello and a little banjo interplay add real gravitas to the tune. Then the regret-flecked 'January Man' appears, a throw back to the Harper I know from past dalliances. His voice really is a richer, more affecting thing these days, this song is once again embellished with some lovely subtle orchestration.
'The Stranger' is an especially fine slice of Gothic-tinged folk and makes for an arresting centrepiece. It's a song that ebbs and flows with portentous stylings, a moody tune with passages of utterly romantic string-laden beauty and then drops of bluesy foreboding chest-beating. Then onto 'Cloud Cuckooland', a place I, myself, often reside. This begins as a perky Tom Petty-esque country rocker that carries a very cynical and biting lyric that just proves this man has grown sharper teeth rather than dulled the bite over the years. The relative perkiness of the song belies the poetic bile of his wordsmithery and it gets gradually more raucous and rocking towards its ultimate trail off, a powerful piece of music, possibly the most fierce and free-wheeling number on the whole album.
The overlong 'Heaven is Here' is the penultimate piece and the only slightly off-putting track on here. Harper devotees will probably adore its indulgent quarter of an hour but it doesn't have the impact of the rest of the record for me so I'll leave it for you to love/hate/dissect. 'The Exile' however is a cracking closer, a trippy, languid, psychedelic smoker that I kinda wish was the quarter hour long song on the album. Some lovely soloing on this, a seductive sleepy organ curls up in your lap, the increasingly jazzy and captivating drums build a free festival in your mind....both retro but thoroughly contemporary and minty-fresh, it's a grand finale to a truly grand record.
Welcome back old-timer, you've been sorely missed.
9/10 Tom Customer review, 4th November 2013
This album is beautifully crafted by the old master. The songs are lyrically beguiling and melodically hypnotic. Roy Harper's unique musical abilities are shining as brightly as they ever did at his creative peak, and Man and Myth is his best work since Stormcock.
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