Harper's best just got better
Elliot Knapp | Seattle, Washington United States | 10/30/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In 1971, Roy Harper--folk and so-called "classic rock's" best-kept secret--released Stormcock, the culmination and consolidation of the various improvements he continually made on his ambitious but sometimes spotty first four albums. Stormcock most effectively fuses the sprawling, mind-blowing grandeur of epics like "McGoohan's Blues" from Folkjokeopus with the guitar prowess and refined, potent lyrics and songwriting from his most recent album (a humbler masterpiece in its own right), Flat, Baroque And Berserk, as well as the fire, humor and energy that made his debut, Sophisticated Beggar, such a treat. The best part, is that Harper managed to excise the muddled lack of direction and propensity for only marginally-funny throwaways that plagued Come out Fighting Ghengis Smith and looked shameful on Folkjokeopus sitting next to a triumph like "McGoohan's Blues." In other words, Stormcock is one of the first (and perhaps highest) peaks in Roy's long and varied career. Not only that, it's one of those albums that every fan of Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and all the other related but better-known artists would love and cherish, if only they had heard about it!
Stormcock opens with the brooding guitar and quiet intensity of "Hors d'Oeuvres." As the title suggests, it's something of a lighter opener to whet the listener's appetite for the feast to come. As the cascading background vocals shower and Harper wails "You can lead a horse to water/but you're never gonna make him drink--You can lead a man to slaughter/but you're never gonna make him think," though, you get the idea that it's not exactly the lightest fare imaginable. His wordplay has improved in sophistication without losing his trademark wit and flair for bodily imagery--the song's got several laugh-out-loud lines that, despite their humor, don't detract from the songs altogether serious mood (classic Harper M.O.). Throughout, the guitar is light and lively, with some phased out lead played by Harper nimbly dancing in a background of psychedelic production flourishes. Ready for the next course?
"The Same Old Rock" is one of Harper's top songs; it's a dense, poetic, but ultimately decipherable barrage aimed at organized religion. Oh yeah, it also features Harper admirer Jimmy Page on lead acoustic guitar. Harper and Page lead us across a veritable landscape with Harper's own inimitable style (this time on 12-string) complemented quite well by Page's restless, inventive lead working around Harper's lyrics and accenting all the right nuances. The song is populated by prophets, Mother Earth, a "restless mouthpiece" (the written word), and you and me, as Harper chronicles a history of plain truth diluted into hypocrisy. The song fluidly moves from part to part (it's over 12 minutes long), culminating in a barnstorming finish--a truly trippy a cappella section where Harper's echoey harmony vocals weave in and out over pounding tribal-sounding percussion; this immediately gives way to hammering acoustic guitars playing the most brilliant riff of Harper's career; finally, Page lays down a wicked solo that he's called his favorite acoustic solo ever.
Side Two: "One Man Rock and Roll Band" is Harper's dig at war--"Welcome home, oh Johnny Soldier/ We treat you here just like they treat you there." Harper's effect-laden voice spits venom over ominous Indian-influenced, open-tuned guitar licks with a truly fluid sense of rhythm. The song comes to a crashing piano finish, with a long "silence" (listen close to hear "Che" played on solo acoustic guitar), segueing into the final course, the epic "Me and My Woman." The song is an undeniable masterpiece, viscerally displaying the uncertainty uniqueness and stark beauty of the human condition, and the "in-it-together"-ness that sits at the very heart of love. Again, the song has many movements. This time Harper is buoyed by an orchestra, conducted and arranged by David Bedford, which really adds to the song's beauty and drama (the oboe that lilts around Harper's vocal in the "What a lovely day" section is sublime). "Me and My Woman" goes a lot of places, from delicate fingerstyle guitar to sweeping grandeur, to the ballsy acoustic pounding in the "dead on arrival" section. When the orchestra swells back in for the staggering conclusion, you'll know that time and money couldn't be better-spent than on a masterpiece like Stormcock. Defying genre characterization, revealing new layers of sound and meaning on every listen, and tapping into the springs of meaning that make really good art so immediate and compelling, Stormcock is utterly essential. Roy reached other great and epic heights on records like HQ and the difficult but brilliant Lifemask, but they were never quite the same as this.
Why is this version of Stormcock even better? Released 30 October 2007 is Science Friction's (Harper's label) remaster of Stormcock, which completely destroys every other CD issue, including Science Friction's first. The instrumental separation is vastly improved, as is the detail, making the entire record sound much more "live" as well as nuanced--Harper's voice's timbre fluctuates much more, and the interplay between guitar, vocal(s) and studio are much more pronounced and, consequently, inexhaustible. Not only this, but the album's packaged in a CD-sized booklet with 20 pages of color and B&W photos, including the original album artwork, the lyrics, new poetry and prose, and the rest of the relevant details. Since I was -13 years old in 1971, I severely missed out on the sound quality of the vinyl Stormcock. I can tell you, though, that this version is far and away the best-sounding CD Stormcock available. Plus, the booklet and artwork offer a retrospective and resource you won't get even if you track down the rare and expensive Harvest vinyl issue. You know what to do."
Joao Nunes | Portugal | 01/11/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Stormcock is Roy Harper's best album and one of my favourite albums of all time. His previous effort, Flat Baroque and Berserk, is already a brilliant album but Stormcock is a major leap forward. Here there is no fooling around (something Roy had always a penchant for in one way or another), the lyrics are carefully thought and the music if not complex in its structure, comprises some brilliant guitar work. It's clear that Roy invested a lot in this one. The epic scale Roy had tried before is fully achieved without sounding pompous. Composed by four very distinctive songs, each a gem in its own right in Roy Harper's catalogue, Stormcock is quite an unique piece of work.
From the opener "Hors d'oeuvres" that builds upon a simple circular guitar line, to the more complex "Me and my woman" with its different sections and tasteful strings arranged by David Bedford, each song has a strong identity, musically and thematically. Roy's lyrics are not the easiest to follow but they evoke powerful imagery when Roy takes his stabs at judges/critics, religion and war - by turns in the first three songs - or writes a masterful treat on love and relationships in the album's tour-de-force "Me and My Woman".
"The Same Old Rock" has Jimmy Page on a guitar duet that has some amazing playing - just check the part with the percussion when both guitars start tripping or Page's final mutant-flamenco solo - music like this leaves me speechless. More great guitar work from Roy himself on "One man rock and roll band" a song that remained obligatory in Roy's shows for many years.
This may seem like progressive folk but I would rate it as something else, an album in a league of its own. And never would Roy match this genius again.
Two reasons to buy the new remastered edition: it sounds better and the package is great. It seems that Roy is finally taking care of his business."
Roy Harper's best album reissued in superb fashion
Paul Allaer | Cincinnati | 11/15/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Roy Harper was always an eccentric on the UK music scene, but when he released his 1971 album "Stormcock", everyone, the music critics and the public alike, recognized it as the superb album that it was (and his best album ever). In 2007, Roy Harper released a remastered and updated release, and what a beauty it is.
"Stormcock" (4 songs; 41 min.) brings 4 long tracks, each and everyone a beauty. The 8 min. opener "Hors d'Oeuvres" sets the tone (very acoustic), but the must-hear track on here is the second track, the 12+ min. "The Same Old Rock", starting with an instrumental intro, then working its way into the meat of the song, and eventually leading into a mind-blowing 4 min. instrumental outro, you gotta hear it to believe it. Led Zep's Jimmy Page plays lead guitar on this track, by the way. It's hard to believe that most of this album is mostly acoutic guitars, augmented by various instruments, as the soundscape of the album plays rich from start to finish. "One Man Rock and Roll Band" plays as the title implies, just Roy and his guitar. The closer 13+ min. "Me and My Woman" is an epic journey, albeit not quite at the stellar level of "The Same Old Rock". But it's a minor quible.
The 2007 reissue comes with great liner notes from Roy Harper himself, and sounds just fabulous in the remastered version. For some reason it doesn't seem to be available here on Amazon, why, I have no idea. Seek it out if you can, it's absolutely worth it. Another long-time ago treasure now available in pristine audio-quality."