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Roy Harper - Stormcock CD (album) cover

STORMCOCK

Roy Harper

 

Prog Folk

4.02 | 171 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

aglasshouse
4 stars Folk music is a genre as time-weathered as the most ancient forms of music out there. It's spanned generations at yet never faced a particular decline. Sure, the 20th century beckoned innovation left and right, such as the inception of jazz and rock as a pop culture medium. These genres, even though existing for a few decades, have been tampered with to the point of ridiculousness, discovering countless avant-garde pathways of musical experimentation. Yet folk hasn't really gone through a mainstream upheaval. Granted a genre as vast as folk is doubtless to maneuver through less traveled territories, which is definitely did in many different cultural landscapes. These ambitious takes on the genre were never financially popular. Most mainstream folk musicians were and are still content to patter out the same material as they were a hundred years ago, mainly because of society's familiarity and comfort with folk staying inside the proverbial box.

The 1970's ushered in the most eclectic and experimental period in recent history. Genres were not being introduced- rather they were being reintroduced in new clothes. Rock morphed itself into such genres as punk rock, disco, funk, and progressive rock (to a smaller extent). Jazz was delving deeper into perplexing territory on one side, but on the other hand genres like smooth jazz began to erupt in popularity. Hell, the two combined in the late 60's into jazz-rock, another newly-discovered music form. Still though, folk remained pinned in normalcy. Sure, psychedelic injections in the genre came from artists like Donovan, but the traditionalism still overshadowed it in popularity with acts like Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary. One artist tried to break this glass ceiling, however. Roy Harper.

To be fair, Mr. Harper doesn't necessarily require a grandiose introduction like some exalted king of tunes, but the man is quite the interesting fellow. In an interview, Harper states that he himself is not a fan of traditional folk music, and "was never really a bone fide member of the folk scene". Harper's difference from his peers becomes quite stark when delving into his music. He doesn't play like a romanticized pretty boy sticking to a linear set of sparing phrases that can be sung to make the crowd swoon, as much as he does a poet or a bard. Harper is a fan of John Keats, an 18th/17th century romantic poet, and it definitely translates fluidly into his work. He sticks mainly to lengthy songs, usually over the 8 minute mark, each filled with colorful language and rich stories. If you want to find good examples of these said songs, look no further than what is perhaps Harper's 1971 opus, Stormcock.

Stormcock is as progressive as they come. First, it has a short set of 4 tracks. Second, each track is individually lengthy, with the longest track being over 13 minutes. Third and finally, upon it's release, it was practically loathed by the labels. Marketing was practically impossible as radios refused to air it's tracks. Financially, Stormcock was a flop. A big flop. But honestly- who cares what the radios think in the end? Stormcock has since then has gained somewhat of a cult following and for good reason. It's influence has stretched quite a way to bands like The Smiths and modern folk/indie band Fleet Foxes. The album itself doesn't feature much diversity musician-wise other than Harper himself, except for Jimmy Page's under-contract-cameo as "S. Flavius Mercurius" and orchestral arrangements by David Bedford (who has worked with Kevin Ayers of Soft Machine). Roy Harper's musicianship is unique and extremely intricate. His guitar skill coupled with his sort of Ian Anderson-esque rasp color vivid literary pictures on each track. As someone who likes a bit of zesty writing, Harper is absolutely my medicine. The production is something highly praised, but personally I think it's rather rough at times. 'Same Old Rock' I know features far too blunt audio-balancing techniques and are usually just acceptable at best. I will give credit where credit is due though; the large production staff managed to master the art of atmosphere, particularly on the last track 'Me and My Woman' (we'll be coming back to this one). The echo of each instrument lends great power to every song, as well as giving it a great personality. More or less this album is guitar-centric, structured around Harper's overlapping acoustic and vocals but given different and interesting effects. If that sounded like something hackneyed to you, I'll admit that it is a bit. But usually where most 70's folk-cheese falls flat is that is becomes overly self-indulgent and you can no longer take it seriously. Stormcock has a certain subtlety to it that gives it a sense of maturity over it's contemporaries. This is mainly shown on the closer, 'Me and My Woman', which I've become convinced is one of the greatest musical compositions of the 1970s. Each movement in the song (especially the opening) flows almost perfectly into each-other, and the orchestral accompaniment does wonders to the piece. I'd really suggest checking it out on your own as it's one of the most worthwhile experiences I can recommend on this site.

Are you looking for an escape, my musically-frustrated friend? Then to reiterate: look no further than Roy Harper's Stormcock. It features some of the most soulful music to come out of the 70's folk scene, and is definitely top quality progressive material. Godspeed.

4.5 rounded to a 4 (mostly because of the production inconsistencies but also for the sake of this site's ratings system).

aglasshouse | 4/5 |

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