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Today Is Yesterday—7


Released: 2002

1)  Long Hot Summer's Day  2) The Scaffold of Daylight  3) Black Clouds  4) Girlie  5) In the Morning  6) Love  7) Forever  8) Little Old Lady  9) Mountain  10) Pretty Baby  11) Mispring Dithering  12) (It's Tomorrow And) Today Is Yesterday  13) Zengem  14) Zaney Jane  15) Life Goes By  16) Night Fighter (Ballad of a Songwriter)  17) Take Me Into Your Eyes


The Green Man” was Roy Harper's first entirely acoustic album in over thirty years, and it is probable that this old school approach made him feel nostalgic for days gone, because Harper went back into his archives and dug up his earliest demos, singles, and aborted ideas soon following the release of that record.  He hated the thought of having his rare tracks sit and gather dust, and felt that they helped put his history in perspective, so he released them all on the beautifully packaged, “Today Is Yesterday.”  While this album is strictly for fans only, there are quite a few essential songs for any true Roy Harper collection.


The first nine tracks were taped between 1964 and 1965 and represent part of Harper’s twenty song demo that got him his first professional contract.  They are recorded on some ancient machine and sound wretched, but Harper only included three songs on this album that also made it onto his debut, “Girlie,” “Black Clouds,” and “Forever.”  The other six performances are heard here for the first time and are much gentler than the direction he went on “Sophisticated Beggar.”  Each track is a beautiful folk song, centered on a repeated guitar run, and all are pleasant enough.  The standout is clearly “Little Old Lady,” with its haunting guitar picking and lyrics dealing with a slow death from aging.  Mountain,” one of the first tunes Harper wrote, is also a good song whose chord pattern sounds extremely similar to Tesla’s “Love Song.”  None of the tunes are vital, but it is nice to hear Harper so young and determined. 


The remaining tracks are the reason for buying the album as Harper tries on about twenty different styles in an attempt to find himself.  Take Me Into Your Eyes” was Harper’s first single, and he claims one of the only songs he has ever written with the idea of charting as its catalyst.  Released in 1966, the song is a trip to listen to…just so eye-poppingly different from the Roy Harper he came to be.  Unlike the demo tracks, Harper fronts a fairly rocking band on this fast paced, two and a half minute, Sixties grove.  The song is catchy, and seems loose, but is well structured with terrific harmonies, a great guitar solo, and a sweet little drum fill.  It is most similar to “Mr. Stationmaster” from his debut, but actually betters that effort.  It would have been very interesting to see what route Harper would have gone had his label been more intent on promoting the single, because this obviously could have been a hit.  The B-side, “Pretty Baby,” is another fast-paced, great track, sounding like a cross between the Beatles “She’s A Woman” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face.”  This time the band is much more sedated, with a tambourine keeping the beat, and Harper’s acoustic picking is both impressive and moody.  Honestly, it is a mystery how Harper has remained so unknown…even his first single is better than 90% of the artists out there at the time and “Pretty Baby” was good enough to be released as an A-side on its own. 


Midspring Dithering” was the next single, released in 1967, complete with light orchestration.  It is much more Hippie sounding than his previous single, and is way too dainty, but the melody is strong.  Again, it sounds nothing like a Roy Harper number, and in fact, could actually pass for a Neil Diamond tune.  The B-side, “Zengem” is a minute and thirty seconds of madness—wild saxophones, fanatical organs, quiet orchestration and speed singing craziness.  The song is just ridiculous, but somehow still manages to be a catchy, quirky little tune. 


Zaney Jane” and “(It’s Tomorrow And) Today Is Yesterday” are both tracks left off of Harper’s albums of the time.  The former has an excellent bass line that really pushes the song.  Nicky Hopkins expertly guests on a rolling piano, and the song really is a good piece of work, although slightly too long and Harper’s voice is a little loony.  The later is an amiable folk song with about four ideas that managed to get recycled for eventual Harper songs, including “Don’t You Grieve,” and “The Same Old Rock.”  Unfortunately, the harmonica heard here has never made another appearance on a Roy Harper track to date.  Harper plays it with skill and precision, and although the Dylan comparisons would have been too much to bear had he continued in the genre, it could have given him some much needed exposure as well.  Regardless, the tune is a real treat to hear, and a worthy title track.


Life Goes By” is mid-tempo comedy piece with piano, big band noise, and kazoos.  It is all 1940sish swing…the kind of thing Paul McCartney tried to bring to the Beatles with stuff like “Honey Pie” and “When I’m Sixty-Four.”  There is no reason for me to like it, and I’m sure you won’t, but it is just so goofy and ridiculous that it comes off as charming.  It is certainly a better attempt at humor than the comedy style tracks on “Folkjokeopus” though.  Night Fighter (Ballad of a Songwriter)” was another rejected album track.  It could have been a Curtis Mayfield tune, with more Rhythm-and-Blues-style-Soul than Harper has produced before or since.  I’ve never heard a song that combines acoustic picking and horn fills quite like this, and it is a shame that Harper didn’t include this on “Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith.”  In fact, that album wouldn’t have been even close to the embarrassment it was had Harper included the tracks here with “All You Need Is” and “Freak Street.”  Although not mind warping or anything, "Come Out Fighting..." would have been a huge improvement.


As I said, “Today Is Yesterday” is really for fans only, but it is interesting to hear how Roy Harper developed.  Each of the tracks after the demos are worth the price of the album alone, and although this shouldn’t be one of your first purchases, do not overlook this charming, schizophrenic compilation.


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