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Best Album
Stormcock—10
 
Released: 1971

1) Hors d'Oeuvres  2) Same Old Rock  3) One Man Rock And Roll Band  4) Me And My Woman 

 

Following the still not successful “Flat Baroque and Berserk,” and his name being dropped on the worst song from "Led Zeppelin III," Roy Harper went off to tour the States in 1971.  He somehow got side tracked however, and instead ended up in a makeshift log cabin in the Big Sur region of California's West Coast writing songs.  While staying at the cabin (actually more of a lean-to), he was arrested for “abusive behavior,” and the cops burned the cabin down right in front of Harper before taking him to the station.  Harper waited in the Monterey County Jail for a little over a week (on his own accord) before he called his record label to bail him out.  A few weeks later he flew home to record the songs he had been working on in America.  It was also during this time that Roy began battling a rare blood disorder (multiple pulmonary arteriovenous fistula) that, although born with, was just beginning to give him major problems in his breathing and stamina.  With all this as the background, Harper recorded his masterpiece.  The album is named after the stormcock (also known as a mistle thrush), a bird native to Europe that keeps singing, even during the heaviest of storms.  The choice of titles is telling and as compelling as the music itself.       

 

The album consists of four songs, each lasting about ten minutes.  The record really isn’t a radical departure from his previous efforts, but somehow manages to sound so much more imposing.  These tunes have a force behind them only touched on previously.  Harper is joined by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page on “The Same Old Rock” and by lush orchestration on “Me And My Woman,” but otherwise it is just his voice and acoustic guitar throughout, and while the other musicians are amazing, this is Harper’s vision and album completely.   

 

Hors d'Oeuvres” opens the record with slow, descending guitar strums, and Harper’s depressing voice.  The tension gradually rises, as the guitars get louder.  Roy’s singing attempts to match the volume, but at a snail's pace, keeping that tension swelling…building and building, slowly bringing you in: leisurely, but with purpose.  When the chorus hits and Roy sings harmony with himself, it really is majestic.  This tune is long and lazy, but packs so much feeling and apprehension it is absolutely gripping.  The lyrics (the only tune on the album with which they are not included) are a slap in the face to all Harper’s critics.  Sophomoric and genuine, they form one of the best “fuck off” lyrics I have read.     

 

The Same Old Rock” fades in from the ending strums of “Hors d'Oeuvres” and features Jimmy Page, playing under the alias S. Flavius Mercurius.  No matter what he calls himself here, Page truly shines, giving inspired guitar fills and a frenzied, acoustic closing solo that rivals any of his work in Zeppelin.  The song starts as an off-putting, but slightly straightforward tune…halfway through though, Harper transforms “The Same Old Rock” into a multi-layered stunner.  Voice, lyrics, melody, guitars…a force-filled winner.  The ending madness of swirling, tribal voices gives way to Page’s ridiculous physical graffiti on guitar (Any fan of the man truly must listen to this!).  He and Harper trade licks back and forth, giving a guitar duel for the ages.  One particular line in the song seems to give credence to the entire album’s slight change in sound…“One new sling, the same old rock.”

 

One Man Rock And Roll Band” starts the second side of the record with a song dealing with the return home of a solider following Doomsday.  The “one man band” is presumably all of us battling through the aftermath.  It is ominous and threatening in sound and when Harper sings in unison with his guitar on the chorus, it gives me goose bumps.  The ending solo here is crushed by a loud piano chord similar to “A Day in the Life,” supposedly ending the world.  But in the background you can still here a guitar picking a beautiful little lick…almost as if music will somehow manage to survive.         

 

And thank God the music kept going on this record, as “Me And My Woman” is, without question, Harper’s best song yet recorded.  There is just too much to praise here.  The lyrics are incredible (“She wakes my days with a glad face/She fakes and says I’m a hard case/She makes and plays like a bad ace/Carrying my ways into scarred space.”  Look at that!!  That is 4 rhymes per line.  Four.  Wakes, fakes, makes…days, says, plays, ways, etc…  Yeah…”So what?” you say…well you just try to write any stanza that has four rhymes in each line…go ahead, give it a try and see if you can come up with something that even makes sense, let alone is heartbreaking). The countless melodies ring in and out throughout, while the agonizing orchestration is at times breathtaking.  The “Dead on arrival” section is the only rock sounding aspect of the entire album and it just rules.  Just go get the record right now and listen.  GO!

 

This is a classic album…as captivating as it is unknown.  One of the most complete and satisfying records I own and every time I hear it, something I hadn’t heard previously is revealed.  You can order it from Roy Harper’s website (www.royharper.co.uk/), or can occasionally find it used at half.com, but however you end up hearing it, I assure you, it won’t be just that one time.  You will find a way to hear this album again.

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