Roy Harper

Royal Festival Hall Live 2001

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This is Roy Harper's 11th live album, if you count the six volumes of The BBC Tapes separately. While some artists seem to release more concert discs as their popularity (and creativity) wane, Harper has usually been more impressive live than in the studio, so the trend makes sense. His vocal range and guitar playing have slowly declined over the years, so this new effort is no match for career peak Flashes From the Archives of Oblivion, but it does a nice job nonetheless of representing his many musical eras. What would any good Harper concert be without the incessant shouts of "White Man!" from the crowd and, of course, guest appearances. This gig was no different, and was a virtual reunion of many of Harper's past collaborators. In fact, the only two notable figures absent were Jimmy Page and David Gilmour, which is a pity. The pairings that work best are the songs with David Bedford-arranged orchestration, and the numbers that feature Nick Harper and John Renbourn on guitar. Obviously, the newer songs aren't as good as epics like "Me and My Woman" and "Hallucinating Light," but the only real misstep ironically occurs during another of his best works, "The Same Old Rock." Harper almost wrecks this beautiful song with a truly silly onslaught of nonsense verbiage and strange noises made during the brief a cappella portion of the number. It is very reminiscent of the occasional antics of kindred spirit Robyn Hitchcock, who also seems to purposely undermine some of his most serious moments by engaging in a kind of self-conscious goofiness that attempts to diminish their import. That quibble aside, this is a nice double-disc souvenir, especially for fans in the States who don't feel like flying to the U.K. to see the aging legend perform.

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