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Roy Harper - Once CD (album) cover


Roy Harper


Prog Folk

3.87 | 14 ratings

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4 stars The many black clouds that hang over us all.

Once is probably Harper's most controversial album, at least by the standards of a cult music figure.

His anti Islamic tirade titled The Black Cloud of Islam was composed after Harper viewed TV news footage of a mid east suicide bombing aftermath that showed slain women and children. Harper immediately viewed the coming fundamentalist threat from as far back as the year this album was conceived in 1990. The rest is, as they say, history. Black Cloud is one of Harper's most pointed and barbed attacks on the lunacy of terrorism's collateral damage. He sings only with his own guitar accompaniment, the only such solo outing on this record, and his angry vocal performance rings with sincerity.

But I digress. The first thing I noticed about this album was the smoldering opening guitar notes that could come from no one else than David Gilmour. His coiling guitar slowly awakening is surrounded by a thick cloud of a synth wash before stately acoustic guitar chords ring out slowly, alternating from the left and right speakers until Harper's familiar voice gently fills the sound stage. It's been a while since I last heard Gilmour's opening guitar followed by vocals (wink, wink) and the effect is wonderful.

The opening track Once is Harper's plea for us to live in each and every moment as we only pass this way once. His impassioned choruses are driven home by some caustic sounding guitar from Gilmour that immediately becomes majestic during the songs middle eight. Lush but not overpowering harmony vocals are provided by Kate Bush and Harper's then wife Jacqui, before more of Gilmour's majestic guitar closes out the song. A wonderful way to get an album started.

Aside from his rant in Black Cloud, Harper's has a theoretical meeting with God in the song titled If. When he dies and Harper apologizes for his doubt, God asks Harper to kneel before him, and well, you know this is going to sit to well with old Roy and he tells God so. "Why can't we just talk man to man" Harper asks. Amazing!

A period rant titled Winds of Change questions the motives of the worlds leaders in 1990, while Berliners springs hopeful to those finally set free from behind the newly destroyed Berlin Wall. A touching song from Harper. But it's not his crowning achievement on this album. That honor goes to one of Harper's most beautiful, poetic and transcendent songs titled Sleeping At The Wheel. It is Harper's celebration of losing track of time when sharing that time with a precious loved one. Even if it's only laying in bed together and waiting to catch the sunrise. It's one of harper's finest moments and surprisingly, the song isn't even mentioned in the extensive liner notes penned by Roy.

Two more good songs about love and unity follow. For Longer Than It Takes and Ghost Dance seem a bit subpar after listening to Sleeping At The Wheel, but listened to on their own, they are also among Harper's most emotionally open songs and are quite stellar.

Well it's been another emotional rollercoaster ride with Mr. Harper that I wouldn't have missed for the world. 4 stars.

SteveG | 4/5 |


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