Arthur / Arthur Lee Harper

Dreams and Images

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The dreamy, pillow-soft psych-folk of Arthur Lee Harper was probably never destined for the mainstream. Like so many young artists, the Melbourne, Florida native headed west to Los Angeles in the late '60s to seek his fortune in the music industry. In an era when you could still do such a thing, he won a record contract with Lee Hazlewood's LHI label by literally knocking on their door and auditioning on the spot. With Hazlewood acting as co-producer alongside Don Owens and Tom Thacker, the team set out to record the debut of the shy, gentle balladeer who was then billing himself simply as Arthur. Released in 1968, Dreams and Images is a sweet, intimate record full of ornate orchestrations by arranger Don Randi and bearing a subtle, quiet grace. Stylistically, it shares similarities to Donovan's more subdued mid-'60s work with its flowery, baroque-inspired odes that seem to filter distant Arthurian lands through the sun-speckled lens of Southern California. Songs like "Children Once Were You" and "Sunshine Soldier" have all the elements of classic flower-power ballads, and Randi's impressive arrangements provide an added mystique. Harper's soft command on the lovely harp-laden "Open Up the Door" suggests an untapped confidence that is often overshadowed by his tremulous delivery throughout much of the record. There is a highly imaginative, almost childlike quality at times, like on the enchanting "Pandora," where he seems entirely lost in his own world. Unlike the earthy, confessional folk of the Laurel Canyon set, Dreams and Images feels almost English, having more in common with the politeness of early Bee Gees albums than with Joni Mitchell. As an album, it takes some time to get to know, but once you become familiar with its joys and frailties you almost want to protect it from harm, and it's this very quality that probably kept Harper from finding greater success in his day.

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