Roy Harper’s Man & Myth from September 2013 is an anomaly in the business and is in the same class as Dave Mason’s Future’s Past from 2014: both are the best albums released by seasoned artists who have been in the business for around fifty years. Not bad. Roy Harper has been around the block, for sure. Busking aside, his shared career began in 1966 with the aptly named—given his dues—Sophisticated Beggar and continues today with 2013’s Man& Myth.
Man & Myth is only seven songs long, ranging from “January Man” at 4:32 to “Heaven is Here” timing in at a whopping 15:24. Both are brilliant tunes and reward close listening. In fact, “Heaven is Here” is rather an odd beast of a song for such a length It’s not a prog-rock elongation of a simple theme at all; it’s a pensive exploration of loss and change...and time...and yet it works wonderfully. It’s proof a song can escape the orbit of the three minute single, spanning five times that barrier, and yet be full of careful lyrics and not feature a single musician wandering away from the theme. It may be the best tune on this phenomenal album, though there are many notable ones.
Cloud Cuckoo Land
For those of us who feel we live in Cloud Cuckoo Land, “Cloud Cuckoo Land” is a welcome piece with its reference to Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand” and the sad realization that we are truly condemned to repeat our mistakes for the foreseeable future. It’s a thoughtful album throughout and should be kept clear of hammocks and relaxing, sunny afternoons. Songs like “Time is Temporary” and “The Exile”—the latter with Pink Floyd overtones—are not tunes you will ever associate with bonfires and parties (or hammocks); these are lonely tunes, to be enjoyed in those moments of exile.
Have to Think to Listen
“The Enemy” is the closest song this album has to a hit, and it comes in at seven and a half minutes, hardly hummable-AM length. It has the most evocative lyrics, the most memorable chorus, and the most to say about living today. In particular, it’s about living in England today, “We don’t live in our villages anymore / Metropolis is home, where the cutpurse and his wolves are at the door / and wildest politicians roam.” Harper sometimes sounds like John Ruskin reminding us that Croydon was once a hamlet and that its streams—and those of many other little villages—have become the underground flow of London’s sewers. It’s not all so dire, but it’s all so serious. If you are looking for an album to read, this is the one.