Roy Harper

Man & Myth

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Roy Harper, loved as he is by everyone from Page & Plant and Kate Bush to Joanna Newsom and Jonathan Wilson, has always existed as a shadow in the hallway of the music business, rather than a presence than its living room. He's also been misunderstood by critics more often than not. He is a poet who happens to play a very decent guitar and write fine melodies. His lyrics have never concerned themselves with fashionable topics. They have been as rooted in the past -- the historical as well as his own -- as they are in his perceived present. Man & Myth is his first new studio album since 2000's The Green Man. It was recorded in California with Wilson and in Ireland with the venerable John Fitzgerald, both of whom play on these well-populated recordings, as well. Composed of seven new songs, this is Harper, aged 72, in pristine voice, his trademark off-meter phrasing intact. Throughout, he makes no attempt to change anything about what he does. The sounds remain rooted in 1967’s Sophisticated Beggar, yet move toward another frontier, albeit with elegant arrangements and crisp yet warm production. His voice and guitar are consistently atop a slew of other instruments, including Pete Townshend's guitar on two tracks. Harper's writing remains keen and opulent, his loopy phrasing and lyrics lie in their own country; they exist outside of the usual singer/songwriter tropes. Opener "The Enemy" is sparse in its charts, but rich in metaphors and metamorphoses as it details the fading notion of romanticism in the post-World War II era in the British Isles. “January Man” looks back at lost love as if it were an inevitability, as its protagonist seeks shelter inside its memory, yet is too smart to believe there is one. Adorned by strings and brass, it’s Harper at his most graceful and vulnerable. “Cloud Cuckooland” is a rocker buoyed by Townshend’s lead guitar (the most aggressive he's played in decades), rolling snares, and Harper's cleverly and scathingly satirizing citing the 21st century’s embrace of corporate culture even as it ushers in its nadir and death. “Heaven Is Here” is the set’s masterpiece. Clocking in at nearly 16 minutes, it’s his look through the history of myth as a snapshot of the present. It’s simultaneously elegiac, romantic, literary, and elliptical as it moves through a visionary dream -- one equally inhabited by the spirits of Dante, Virgil, Milton, and Yeats. His melismatic phrasing is as musical as the gorgeous strings, guitars, drums, and mellotrons in the sonic architecture framing his voice. Man & Myth is Harper at his best, fully in command of his vision, his curious, lovely melodic sensibility, and, of course, his poetry.

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