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The Green Man—9

 

Released: 2000

1) The Green Man  2) Wishing Well  3) Sexy Woman  4) The Apology  5) Midnight Sun  6) Glasto  7) The Monster  8) New England  9) Solar Wind Sculptures  10) Rushing Camelot  11) All In All

 

Originally, Roy Harper intended “thedreamsociety” to be the first in a trilogy of albums, with each record representing the various stages of life’s dreams.  Including “These Fifty Years” on the first album though, ruined any chances of that idea coming to pass, and by 2000, Harper was writing songs with a different muse.  This particular muse was free of bass and drums, and really almost entirely of electricity, so Harper set about to begin recording his first acoustic album since his very early days.  He acted as producer and engineer of the album (with help from his multi-talented friend Jeff Martin), and titled the record “The Green Man.”  

 

Without a doubt, this is the best album Harper has recorded since “Stormcock.”  While that album had an almost angry, forceful, isolated feel, “The Green Man” is an album of a grandfather— a world-weary grandfather, loving life, but knowing that his time has almost come.  There isn’t even close to any filler on this record, and each song invites you in, welcoming you with Harper’s gentle voice and acoustic technique.  The outside instruments (long a staple of Harper’s sound) are kept to a bare minimum with Jeff Martin expertly adding touches of color with various acoustic and wind instruments and Johnny Fitzgerald delicately accompanying his restrained keyboards on two numbers.      

 

The title track opens the album with its grandiose acoustic picking and gentle, but still forceful, melody.  The lyrics deal with reincarnation and the pagan "Green Man," man living by and of nature.  The guitar matches the subject matter sounding distinctly Eastern and having a spiritual feel.  Harper proves that despite his age (he was almost 60 when this was recorded), his guitar playing has only grown stronger, with this impressive track.  Wishing Well” follows, imposing and grand (especially the background hurdy gurdy played by Martin), with a much more gloomy impression, dedicated to Harper's late first wife.  Sexy Woman” is an excellent song, with a twelve-string guitar, a mandolin, and a recorder (all played by Martin), adding attitude and a “Gallows Pole” feel, but with more of a cocksure strut.  The confidence in this song, teamed with the lust hasn’t been heard in a Harper song since “Valentine” and is completely compelling. 

 

The three-minute, basically instrumental, “The Apology” follows, co-written by Jeff Martin.  Harper can be heard longingly moan over top of his skilled guitar picking, but you can’t make out anything he is singing.  It doesn’t matter…the tune is so beautiful that the sense of what he is saying gets through more clearly than words could have, making this an album highlight and easily the best instrumental Harper has performed.  Midnight Sun” is a gorgeous, tearjerker of a love song about how a relationship can stop the world from spinning.  It is touching and tender beyond belief.  On the contrary, “Glasto” is the most whimsical, catchiest song in Harper’s catalog.  The chant of “Let’s go to Glasto again…” backed by that nonstop acoustic scale run is cordial and inviting, and the song is just a blast oh. 

 

Changing auras again, “The Monster” is an eight-minute epic…a protest song, about our own failures as a society…a protest song, protesting us.  “Everybody knows, that everybody goes insane” and we just live with that thought, not able, or even wanting to change.  Harper captures just the right amount of anger, frustration, hurt, and acceptance in the lyrics and this is another excellent, gripping song.  New England” begins the second side of the album with an autobiographical, happy jaunt.  It is undeniably popish, sounding like Paul McCartney or Harper’s own “Bullingamingvase.”  The lyrics condemn the new England that Harper’s homeland has become, “Where everyone helps themselves to everybody’s dreams.”  Apparently, the song was to be included on the second “thedreamsociety” record, but it fits in snuggly on this album. 

 

Solar Wind Sculptures” comes limping in, sounding like it is almost embarrassed to be included, but it slowly picks up strength and the childlike melody is precious.  Harper’s lyrics are just as charming: “If only the frogs would March off April/ then May be our Junes would July/ run down the August wet river bank holidays/ straight back to Feb you or I.”  It is heartfelt and cuddly and makes me want to visit my grandparents.  Conversely, "Rushing Camelot" is as dismal as “Solar Wind Sculptures” is enchanting.  Still though, this nine-minute tune is a stunning success, beautiful and harrowing, with lyrics dealing with regeneration (of the planet, of the body, and of the soul): “I want to live forever/ but I know I must relent/ give my place to my kids/ no longer dodge the rent.”  Paddy Keenan adds “Braveheart” type uillean pipes and whistles that add to the elegance, and the coda of Harper’s beautiful voice singing in harmony with itself is just alluring. The album closes with “All in All,” a moody “celebration of life,” inspired by Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception.”  It shares a similar feel to the Stones’ “Paint It Black,” but isn’t quite as menacing.  Still, the song is a complete success and the most dynamic on the record, with remarkably fast acoustic strumming and a great melody.

 

thedreamsociety” was an excellent record, impressive and intrusive, but with “The Green Man” Harper has created his first masterpiece in thirty years.  There isn’t even a bad note on this album, much less a bad song, and the lyrics are as intriguing as ever.  I’m sure Harper is just too eccentric to stick with this formula for his next album, but as he slowly glides into the twilight of his life, I hope that the acoustic muse that visited him for this album overwhelms him a few more times…

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