This CD re-releases Harper's fifth LP from 1971 directly upon the success of Flat, Baroque and Berserk (reviewed elsewhere in this forum), departing from the strict folkistics of that album to construct a concept LP in four movements. For folkers, this was rather a radical act in the day and remains so today. Starting with trademark acoustic guitar, voice, and hyper-attractive sincerity, the first cut soon introduces an ethereal choir—consisting of he, himself, and Harper—deepening the atmosphere oceanically. An organ ties the ethereality back to the ground but sophisticates the song, branching it. The repeating bottom refrain becomes a baroque exploration of the simple chord cycle exploring its own possibilities and, thus, we see why Harper's material proved so compelling to other musicians.
Jimmy Page stepping into the second movement rather proves it. Credited as "S. Flavius Mercurius", due to the usual corporate contractual bullshit, he plays acoustic lead atop Harper's 12-string, and one can't help but notice that Page may well have been rather influenced by Harper's style as the two fit like hand in glove (Harper was no slouch when deciding to strut his fingerpicking), the interplay becoming mesmerizing. Page then steps out and Harper solos the third cut (each is titled simply I, II, III, and IV),obviously inspired by Jimmy and bluesing his lines right from the git-go. Roy was rarely content to just sing his own words, he wrestled with them, forcing the world of the syllable to bleed over into the very different realm of sound, achieving a marriage satisfactory to his wont; thus, plaintive strains and fierce emphasis are frequent. III, when one is hip to it, is actually quite John Lee Hooker-ish, Harper wringing the tune for all its worth, dragging the structure out indefinitely, the result being that the listener wishes it would never end.
David Bedford (well-reputed arranger) wanders in for the finale, but, really, the result is not very dissimilar to the lead cut, save for the strings, which are, well, somewhat superfluous, Harper needing little in terms of assistance in that wise. Nonetheless, it all works and the growingly legendary folker dazzled the fans of the early 70s with a work that nicely stood with the experimentation so engagingly rife back then.
The superb deluxe packaging, in the mini-LP format, adds in a wealth of new materials, including photos, artwork, and lyrics (I have the original Chrysalis release in vinyl and it contains none of these things). The ability to read and ponder his words, however, becomes rather surprising: Harper had a John Cage-ian side to him, a la Cage's obscure *Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make It Worse)* release (8 CDs!). Consider a few fragments:
So simple yet so direct, and one is left to ponder the narrative long after the eyes leave the printed word.
All songs written by Roy Harper.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Website design by David N. Pyles