Roy Harper Songs of Love and Loss Review

Compilation. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

His erratic genius is finally getting the recognition it so richly deserves.

Sid Smith 2011

Too rocky for the folk crowd and too folky for the rock crowd, throughout his career Roy Harper has confounded critics – and back in the day was sometimes known to sorely test the patience of even his most ardent fans via lengthy chemically-enhanced between-song monologues as he cajoled or caressed the objects of his ire and desire. Although 2011 sees Harper enjoying his 70th year, his sense of unbridled passion is undiminished.

In some respects Harper seems too complex a character to be packaged solely as a singer of love songs. For example, a newcomer drawn in by the silky harmonies of South Africa or plaintive cries of Little Lady – both featured on this double-disc compilation – might expect their parent album, 1973’s Lifemask, to contain more of the same the same. Instead they’ll have to negotiate the exhaustive energies of Highway Blues, only to then find the 20-something-minute acid-prog epic of The Lord’s Prayer waiting to ambush them, both tracks striking with startlingly and powerfully unsettling brilliance.

Yet his uncompromising rough-with-the-smooth delivery has been a recurring trait that’s always made his writing a turbulent force to be reckoned with. That contrarian personality is ingrained within his love songs; his lyrics hovering between harsh, unexpurgated confessionals or elegant, effortless poetry that captures or evokes intimacy without ever quite pinning it down like a butterfly in a case.

I’ll See You Again remains one of the most searing and unsentimentally honest accounts of two people wanting different things that you’re ever likely to hear. Wreathed in David Bedford’s ethereal string and brass arrangement, the pain and regret in the lines "I’m feeling the reasons for why I went / Like mountains between now and then" and the tumultuous, devastating cry of "No way!" paints Harper at his most emotionally articulate.

Despite some of his most beautiful and touching pages from his copious songbook being conspicuous by their absence (Tom Tiddler’s Love Ground, Evening Star, and Broken Wing spring to mind) this set celebrates that fact that Harper’s admittedly erratic genius, criminally overlooked for too long, is finally getting the recognition it so richly deserves.

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