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Roy Harper - Sophisticated Beggar CD (album) cover


Roy Harper


Prog Folk

3.45 | 30 ratings

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4 stars "Time is a flat circle."

So said the Nietzsche inspired cop on the first brilliant series of the HBO serial True Detective, referring to Nietzsche's theory that time repeats itself. If that's true, then Roy Harper's albums would form a perfect circle of his work.

Harper is one of the few recording artists that I know of that has an readily identifiable style and an almost unwavering commitment to quality that has never been commercially compromised. At least not intentionally.

Harper's debut album, Sophisticated Beggar, shows Harper armed with an arsenal of well composed songs and a couple of guest spots from His Les Cousins' club buddies John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. Or so it's rumored as Harper never states it clearly due to record label hassles, which was common place in that era.

The lead off track China Girl starts off with the familiar opening riff heard on David Bowie's hit song of the same name. A brief homage perhaps, as Harper's tune turns immediately into an acoustic folk song with strange disembodied backwards tape sounds bracketing the choruses. A wonderful start before heading into the folkie reflective Goldfish, before the great title track that sounds exactly like the great Renbourn tossing some incendiary blues based acoustic leads from the speaker's left channel.

Big Fat Silver Aeroplane is Harper at his most cynical and comical self before the awesome Jansch (ahem, rumored) dominated song Blackpool springs forth with spiraling guitar chords and Jansch's abrasive leads and familiar string snaps. More of a mesmerizing instrumental than a song sung by Harper, it's a high point of the album and gives this album the instrumental gravitas that be absent in Harper's next three albums, until Roy teamed up with Page on Stormcock in 1971.

Legend, Girlie, My Friend, and Black Clouds are folk based songs that work given their contrasting emotional tones, music and lyrics.The album falls flat with Mr. Station Master and Committed, which showcase period style rock instrumentation and musically go no where. Both songs are briefly interrupted with Harper's first ever recording of Forever, that was recorded for the Valentine album. Both versions are stellar and it's easy to see that Harper had an emotional connection to this song about enduring love.

Rumored (again) to be recorded in a shed instead of a proper studio, the album is clear as a bell and has wonderful mastering, that much to Harper's chagrin, has a healthy dose of bass EQed into the master, giving this predominantly acoustic album a denser sound than that found on the albums that immediately followed.

Sophisticated Beggar is not as ornate as the following 'Genghis Smith' album, or as progressive as Jokefolkopus , or as good as Flat, Baroque, and Berserk. But its a great starting point to an impressive recording career by the eccentric Mr. H.

SteveG | 4/5 |


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