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This review is from: Man and Myth (Audio CD)
Roy Harper has had a turbulent career: despite his famous friends (I won't namecheck them here again) his album sales have always been disappointing and the critical response has always been unpredictable. He hasn't been helped, ultimately, that nearly every Harper fan cites Stormcock (1971) as his greatest album, meaning that everything else has had to find some light beneath its shadow. Looked at now, though, his work has always been more consistent than it appeared at the time: he managed at least one great album in every decade: Folkjokeopus in the 1960s, several in the 1970s, Work Of Heart in in the 1980s, Death Or Glory? in the 1990s and The Green Man in 2000. For an artist whose back catalogue is still comparatively little-known, that's an exceptional track record.
Harper's (first?) great album for the 20-teens is Man And Myth, and the first thing to note about it is that there is not a single wayward moment on this album: anyone put off by the eccentricities that led Harper to describe himself as being like the "Loony On The Bus" can come to this album with confidence that all they will hear is a great songwriter (still) at the peak of his powers. Although the production is full and the arrangements often generous in scale, this is also not an album that sounds lifeless or bowdlerised.
There are echoes of several albums here: the fuller band sound that appears on three of the album's tracks may remind people of HQ or Bullinamingvase, but the rock side of the album is less obvious in the acoustic guitar-based ballads that dominate the album and are more reminiscent of Valentine, or The Green Man. Subtle use of strings gives these songs a breadth that was sorely missed from some of Harper's albums in the 1980s, and delicate ornamentation such as Jonathan Wilson's banjo on "Time Is Temporary" mean that songs "bed in" over several listenings.
This is nowhere more true than in the case of album centrepiece "Heaven Is Here", which sounds at first like one immensely long ballad but reveals itself with repeated listening as a sinuous sequence of ideas and moods. Co-produced by John Fitzgerald in Ireland, this is the track (along with its thematic pair, "The Exile") that will enter the discussion of Harper's greatest long songs alongside "Me And My Woman" and "One Of Those Days In England".
Jonathan Wilson is here credited as the California co-producer, but those who know his album Gentle Spirit will sense his deeper value in this album as someone who has clearly encouraged Harper to let his work breathe. Nothing is rushed here yet the only song that outstays its welcome is the curtain-raiser, "The Enemy".
Hints of Harper's retirement have always been misleading in the past, and there is no reason to think of Man And Myth as a final statement, but it would be a pretty emphatic one if it were. With rock journalists proving unusually receptive to this album, chances of his issuing a great album in the 2020s shouldn't be ruled out prematurely.
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Initial post: 4 Oct 2013 07:47:26 BDT
By golly, I think you've nailed it! Exactly my experience over several listens, but put in a way that I never could; beautiful review of a beautiful album.
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