Monday, November 10, 2008

by Chrille

Roy Harper - Once (1990)

After a disappointing decade of flawed releases, Roy Harper began the '90s on a strong note with the resurgent Once, an album very reminiscent in tone of Harper's 1980 effort, The Unknown Soldier. Despite the similarity, Once is the far superior album due to Harper's effort to downplay production in lieu of musicianship. Many of the lyrics deal with the impact of the fall of communism, which had taken place as Harper recorded the album. Most seem heavy-handed, though, except for the touching poetry of "Berliners," a song which features David Gilmour on guitar. "The Black Cloud of Islam" deals with a completely different issue, and drew fire from critics for its attacks on organized religion. Harper's next album, Death or Glory?, with its more personal imagery, is the one to get for those wanting the best from this era, but Once isn't far behind. ~ Brian Downing, All Music Guide

Roy Harper - Death Or Glory (1992)

Roy Harper was spurred into making one of his best albums only after his wife abruptly left him in 1992, thrusting him into a deep despair. The rawness of Death or Glory?, and the fact that it was conceived after the bitter dissolution of a decade-long relationship, makes it the emotional, if not artistic, heir of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The album shuns Harper's penchant for over-production in lieu of his more traditional acoustic sound. "The Tallest Tree" is a winning tribute to Chico Mendes with spiraling guitar work by Nick Harper. Harper is also positive in the winsome "Evening Star," which finds him finally recreating his classic early-'70s sound. Harper wrote the song for Robert Plant's daughter on her wedding, and even nicked the first line of "Stairway to Heaven" as a wink to his old mate from Led Zeppelin. Perhaps the album's finest moment is the mostly instrumental tribute to Miles Davis, "Miles Remains," which is not jazzy, but sounds instead like a more guitar-oriented Clannad. But the majority of the album is very pensive and bleak, including the bizarre, weepy spoken word piece that ends the record. The album was remixed in 1999 when Harper deleted some of the more gratuitous pieces in an attempt to make the album less depressing. In any form, Death or Glory? remains one of Harper's most satisfying works, and is his only release from the '90s that most casual fans will want to own. ~ Brian Downing, All Music Guide

Roy Harper - Burn The World (1995)

Roy Harper - Unhinged (1995)

As is often the case, this live effort by Roy Harper is much more impressive than his sometimes spotty studio albums. This disc was initially a cassette-only release entitled Born in Captivity II. In 1993, it was edited and re-released on CD as Unhinged. The songs hail from the period between 1989 and 1991 and were recorded throughout the United Kingdom. Such overlooked gems as "Descendants of Smith," "When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease," and "Naked Flame" are given solid acoustic treatments by Harper. The songs that include Nick Harper, his son, on lead acoustic guitar are the album's best, and reveal the younger Harper as even more accomplished on the instrument than his father, if that is possible. He also adds astonishing, almost Spanish, flourishes to "Highway Blues," resulting in one of the best takes of his father's classic song. The fact that this was the first of Harper's official live albums with proper liner notes and complete recording information only adds to its enjoyment. Even though Unhinged mostly rehashes past Harper songs, it is an impressive update and easily outperforms his studio releases from the time. ~ Brian Downing, All Music Guide

Roy Harper - The Dream Society (1998)

The Dream Society continued Roy Harper's winning streak with an impressively produced album of varied material. The opening "Songs of Love" is a striking duet with vocalist Musumi that also features some great acoustic guitar work from son Nick Harper. "Songs of Love, Pt. 2" quickly follows with a hard rock sound as convincing as any Harper has produced since HQ in 1975. While there are many styles on the album -- hard rock, folk-rock, and even country -- perhaps the acoustic ballad "Broken Wing" is the record's best cut. The album-closing epic "These Fifty Years" is one of Harper's most ambitious tracks. With several movements and some very progressive sections, it sounds a bit like Jethro Tull, a notion no doubt aided by a familiar flute sound courtesy of Ian Anderson. Although the song isn't as memorable as "The Same Old Rock" or "Me and My Woman," Harper must be given credit for a mostly successful attempt at a longer piece. As usual, the lyrics throughout are almost purposefully ponderous, a matter not allayed by the rambling liner notes. While Death or Glory? displayed greater highs and Once showed a new musical maturity, The Dream Society is more consistent and completes Harper's utterly successful trilogy of studio albums from the '90s. ~ Brian Downing, All Music Guide

Roy Harper - The Green Man (2001)

Following the somewhat disappointing The Dream Society, the astounding British singer/songwriter delivers his best album since 1974's Stormcock and gets his muse back on track. Always an extraordinary guitarist, his songs are still developed out of the folk techniques of his early albums and his lyrics are still as sublimely poetic and soaring. His beautiful voice hasn't sounded so impassioned since his great trilogy of albums: Flat Baroque and Berserk, Come out Fighting Ghengis Smith, and the aforementioned masterpiece Stormcock. For this session, Harper went into the studio alone and wrote, engineered, and mixed the entire collection himself. It's evident that the isolation brought his more introspective, deeply personal elements out in the songs. Here we have the Roy Harper who explored intimate love songs and literate themes on "Another Day" from Flat Baroque and Berserk and delicate folk simplicity on the album Valentine. Gone is the railing angst of "I Hate the White Man" or the hard rock of an album like When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease. Green Man is entirely acoustic, with the exception of Johnny Fitz's Fender Rhodes cameo on "The Monster"; subsequently, Harper sounds more comfortable not fighting with a rhythm section, adding Jeff Martin's mandolin on "Sexy Woman." "Midnight Sun," "Solar Wind Sculptures," and "The Green Man" are outstanding pieces of work -- highlights that make the album yet another utterly inexhaustible album in the legacy of one of the U.K.'s most admired songwriters. ~ Skip Jansen, All Music Guide


Blogger Private Beach said...

The reissue of Death or Glory also changed the cover art. I prefer the original which you've posted here.

Thanks for all the Harper material, but I have most of these CDs already. If anyone can post Loony on the Bus or Poems, Speeches, Thoughts and Doodles it would be greatly appreciated - both are no longer available and go for ridiculous sums on eBay.

11 November, 2008 11:13  
Anonymous Chrille said...

Hi there! The cover art for Death Or Glory was posted by Lizardson. I actually did send the other cover but Lizardson choosed to use this one instead and he did choose wisely. I also think this cover is better than the reissue so big thanks to Lizzy :)

I am also looking for Loony On The Bus Or Poems, Speeches... They seem very hard to get but if I find them I will post them here as well.


11 November, 2008 18:32  

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