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Roy Harper - Flat Baroque and Berserk
 

Roy Harper - Flat Baroque and Berserk

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Genre: pop
Rating: 4 stars ****
Title:  Flat Baroque and Berserk
Company: Harvest
Catalog: SHVL 766
Year: 1970
Country/State: Manchester, UK
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: UK original pressing
Available: 1
Catalog ID: 300
Price: $75.00

Best time to play: After a long, painful work week, or when you just need to spend a little time sulking

1970's "Flat Baroque and Berserk" was recorded in Abbey Road Studios with Peter Jenner producing. (The title was apparently meant as a pun - Flat Broke and Berserk ...) So right off the bat, let me say this isn't going to appeal to everyone. Lots of folks will find Harper irritating, if not a pompous blow-hard, espousing hopelessly dated political and social themes. (One of my friends has always pointed to the cover and asked how such a seemingly sensitive, worldly guy would dare to have himself photographed with a dead tiger.) I'm guessing being stoned may have played a role. personally I was more offended by the horrible shirt Harper sported on the cover. Wonder if he really went out wearing that thing ... I'll readily agree that Harper's activist agenda can sound dated and stale, and the fact ten of the eleven tracks featured acoustic folk material (usually Harper accompanying himself on acoustic guitar) gave the album a certain sounds-the-sameness. There was certainly lots of sensitive singer/songwriter material here and while it should send English majors and sensitive loners into shivers of ecstasy, but folks looking for a slice of rock were going to be pretty disappointed. The lone exception coming via the closer 'Hell's Angels' where backed by The Nice, Harper demonstrated he could churn out a decent slice of rock and roll. But here's the thing ... flaws and all, this is one of those weird album's that grows on you. Harper had a cool voice that got better the more you heard it (or the more beer you drank) and the man was a gifted acoustic guitarist. Yeah, the arrangements were spare, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

1.) Don't You Grieve (Roy Harper) - 5:43
Coupled with an upbeat, bouncy melody, I've always found Harper's reflections on Judas Iscariot fascinating. How stoned did you have to be to write and sing a song from Iscariot's point of view? The lyric almost makes up for the fact there wasn't much in the way of a melody. rating: **** stars
2.) I Hate the White Man (Roy Harper) - 8:03
Hum, I guess it would be obvious to point out the song's aura of self-hatred ... so much for the "we're one big family" concept of love and understanding. Giving him credit, Harper's always claimed the song was inspired by such crimes against humanity as apartheid, slavery, and the annihilation of the American Indian culture. Overlooking the opening which featured a stoned Harper haphazardly lecturing listeners on his world views (wonder how may residents of "poor countries" would have gladly traded places with Harper), the song had a nice enough melody (just Harper and acoustic guitar), but the lyrics were definitely infuriating and the song seemed to go on and on and on ... Maybe that was the intent, or maybe Harper just got out on the wrong side of the bed when he wrote this one. rating: *** stars
3.) Feeling All the Sunday (Roy Harper) - 1:56
It's hard to remember that Harper could be funny (back to the album title), but in case you were unaware of that side of his personality, then there was the charming 'Feeling All the Sunday'. One of his prettiest melodies the lyrics were apparently inspired by some life threatening illnesses - at one point in time Harper was told he only had a couple of months to live. Anyhow, the song always brings a smile to my face. rating: **** stars
4.) How Does It Feel (Roy Harper) - 6:29
'How Does It Feel' has always reminded me of a mid-'60s Dylan tune - there's something about Harper's voice ... he seemed to be incorporating Dylan's snarl on this one. Nice track. YouTube has a stunning live performance of the tune (sans the Dylan imitation). The track was apparently recorded for a 199 Swedish television show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1IoW_WlXbA rating: **** stars5.) Goodbye (Roy Harper) - 5:42
Another one of Harper's prettier efforts; notable for multi-tracked lead vocal and some beautiful acoustic guitar - folks forget what an accomplished acoustic guitarist he is. rating: **** stars
1.) Another Day (Roy Harper) - 1:56
My wife will tell you I have the sensitivity of a break, but 'Another Day' is one of folk music's greatest tales of regret. Courtesy of David Bedford, the subtle orchestration adds to the feeling of pain and loss. Play it for an English major and they're guaranteed to breakdown in a stream of tears. For anyone interested, Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel did a stunning cover of the tune. This Mortal Coil also covered it. rating: **** stars
2.) Davey (Roy Harper) - 2:57
I've read various stories about the song's inspiration - a near death experience at the beach with brother Davey; fellow musician Davey Graham ... regardless, it's a pretty, if short acoustic tune. rating: *** stars
3.) East of the Sun (Roy Harper) - 3:02
I'm not a big harmonica fan, but I'll make an exception for 'East of the Sun'.
4.) Tom Tiddler's Ground (Roy Harper) - 6:48
I don't know if the inspiration was the Charles Dickens's short story, or the old game (kind of an early version of king of the hill), or maybe something totally different, but this was another album highlight. Backed by Tony Visconti on recorded and one of Harper's most energetic vocals, 'Tom Tiddler's Ground' was a great track. Anyone know who Harper was talking to at the start of the song? YouTube has a cool 2004 in--concert performance of the song. Backed by Matt Churchill, Harper's voice is a little deeper and bit more fragile, but the overall effect is quite impressive. I'd certainly pay to see the guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7Aq1nVG6GU rating: **** stars5.) Francesca (Roy Harper) - 1;19
Sadly one of the album's shorted tunes, 'Francesca' sported one of the prettiest melodies. Shame there wasn't another stanza to the track. rating: **** stars
6.) Song of the Ages (H. Ash) - 3:52
Hardcore fans will tell you this is a classic Harper tune, though I'll admit its charm is largely lost on me. The melody was pretty enough (just acoustic guitar and what sounded like a harp), but the hyper-sensitive lyric just kind of droned on. rating: *** stars
6.) Hell's Angels (Roy Harper) - 7:46
With backing from The Nice (Brian Davidson, Keith Emerson, and Lee Jackson), 'Hell's Angels' was a real surprise - name a true rock song with some killer lead guitar (Harper reportedly playing an acoustic guitar through a wah wah pedal). And the funny thing is it sounded darn good. Makes you wonder what he might have done if he'd been willing to bounce his ideas off of a group concept. Perhaps because it sounded so different from the bulk of Harper's catalog, it's my pick for stand out track. I'll admit the end of song stoned laughter was disconcerting. YouTube has another Swedish live performance (just Harper) that's surprisingly impressive: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ySJUS1glVY rating: ***** stars
The album provided Harper with his first brush with UK success (going top-10), but didn't even seen an American release.

Good place to start checking out Harper's extensive catalog.
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