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Lifemask7
 
Released: 1973

1)  Highway Blues  2) All Ireland  3) Little Lady  4) Bank of the Dead  5) South Africa  6) The Lord's Prayer

 

In 1972 Roy Harper was cast as the lead in the movie “Made” (directed by John MacKensie and chosen along side “A Clockwork Orange” to represent England in the Venice Film Festival that year).  The movie was apparently about a musician who made it big, but was still searching for something, and Harper beat out Marc Bolan and Kris Kristofferson, among others, for the part.  Most of the songs featured on “Lifemask” were originally supposed to be for the soundtrack to the movie, which for some reason, never materialized.  While far from Harper’s best, this album still has touches of his songwriting genius, and as always, displays his imaginative and socially significant lyrics.      

 

Highway Blues,” with its splashes of electricity, is vastly different from his previous few albums.  It is still acoustically based, but is harder and more rocking.  The melody is very reminiscent of parts of “Stormcock,” which needless to say, is a good thing.  What brings this tune into excellence is the slow background build up of a full band.  It starts with just Roy on guitar and, so slowly you wouldn’t even know it, drums and bass start in behind him with touches of synthesizers and guitar soling.  Soon there is a whole band backing Harper and the ending result is a true highlight.  All Ireland” follows and is moody, somber, and delicate.  Dealing with Ireland’s constant fighting over nationality and religion, it is bleak and anti-war.  Some would probably call this a slow point on the album or even a lowlight, but to me it is essential and earnest. 

 

Little Lady” is an emotional nightmare.  The song deals with an incident in Harper's adolescence when he and his fifteen-year-old girlfriend were forced to abort their child because the couple was considered too young.  The lyrics, mood, and music are beautiful, and although the tune is slightly too long, it still breaks me down.  “Bank Of The Dead” features Jimmy Page’s lively and jumpy guitar fills.  It is somewhat similar to “Same Old Rock” from the previous album, but can’t come close to reaching such a standard.  Page’s ending solo, which is straight rock and roll, for some reason is cut short here when it sounds like it was just about ready to take off, wasting an excellent oppurtunity to save this tune.  The closing song on Side A is “South Africa.”  This is gorgeous and stands up with Harper’s best tunes—absolutely timeless.  The “she” in the song refers to South Africa with its racial apartheid, and Harper plays the part of an outsider trying to understand. 

 

The second side of the original LP is made up of 23 minute of “The Lord’s Prayer” written while Harper was looking at a 19th century painting of Native American legend, the Apache, Geronimo (a reprint of the painting is included on the album sleeve).   It all starts with a long spoken poem complete with special effects.  Some of these effects are worthy of note…when Harper says the word “broken,” the word itself is sonically broken (like a skip on a CD).  To be sure, Harper is a unique and amazingly talented word-man, somehow obscure and poignant at the same time, but this isn’t something you’ll really want to listen to more than once.  When the music kicks in it begins as a standard Harper tune…interesting guitar, great vocal melody, and tremendous singing.  It eventually melts into orchestration and synthesizers (neither of which help a great deal), before turning into a faster paced and all together more impressive grove.  This is short lived though as the song soon falls right back into the original chord sequence.  Jimmy Page adds in his lead guitar throughout, but never really makes that much of an impact (ala Eric Clapton on Roger Waters’s “The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking”).  The last six minutes of the song are easily the best musically (with changing melodies and sections of catchiness), but these minutes can’t save the tune.  Overall, while not truly bad, this is still pretty boring.

 

Following “Stormcock” was impossible and to Harper’s credit, he didn’t go back and record another acoustic album.  Instead he tried to expand his sound and had the guts to do something as radical as “The Lord’s Prayer.”  While he wins points for courage from me, this album isn’t one of my favorites.

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