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Roy Harper - Lifemask CD (album) cover

LIFEMASK

Roy Harper

 

Prog Folk

3.75 | 27 ratings

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dreadpirateroberts
3 stars Roy's follow-up to the magnificent Stormcock is a great album in its own right - for the most part, but it does have a significant misstep, closing piece 'The Lord's Prayer.' It's worth saying that I come back to this album nearly as much as Stormcock but it's for the first half not the wandering epic. But more on that later.

Instrumentally, Roy has expanded the palette on Lifemask to include the backing of a full band for some of the pieces, along with percussion, flute and a little synth - featuring perhaps most prominently on the excellent stop-start opener 'Highway Blues.' Probably the stand out piece, it's also available in an arguably superior live take on Flashes from the Archives of Oblivion but here it's still a great opener with a sense of restless energy and suspense that is finally resolved in Roy's wails to 'please give me a lift.'

'All Ireland' is a sombre, country-influenced strummer, brief and bleak: "Goodbye free Ireland / Try again soon / The tommies and sirens / Are wolves in the moon / Devouring your children / With the law's empty spoon" and is followed by 'Little Lady' which is not as successful. Not unpleasant, it simply doesn't stand out like other pieces, such as 'Bank of the Dead' which features old friend Jimmy Page on guitar (though in the liner notes Roy admits he had to try and redo some of Page's parts due to an accident with a magnet) and covers thematic territory familiar to those who are aware of Harper's views on the perils of the modern world. It's blessed with Roy's ever-effective riff work and a cynical vocal.

Next comes a beautiful love song, with echoes musically from 'The Same Old Rock' but which has more in common with one of his songs from two years prior, 'I Hate the White Man,' and is actually intended for South Africa. It is the last moment of brilliance on the album, as the next piece, despite some nice lead work from Page toward the end, is a little too meandering for my taste.

"I had always regarded Tim Leary as half a charlatan, Allen Ginsberg as a quarter, and Byron as a smidgin or two. My heroes were Shelley, Kerouac, Miles Davis and Keats...In the light of these admissions, it may not be too difficult to see where the major work on 'Lifemask', 'The Lords Prayer' is coming from... The song catalogues spontaneous interpretations of how we are inter-acting with the planet. It was never aimed at mass market and is just a poem for friends and kindred spirits."

The above quote from Roy's website may well contextualise the piece. Even with some a fine vocal performance from Roy in his upper register, the piece suffers from what sounds like a 'throw in a bit of everything' approach and ends the album on a (compositionally) down note. Lyrically, the Beats' influence is clear on the poem that opens it, rhythmically certainly, and also through the playful studio trickery it employs. The song ends on a sincere plea:

is it too late/ to create/ a world made with care/ Is it there/ or fleeting/ here today and gone/ tomorrow's child/ looking so wild and free/ are we a choice/ with no voice/ can it be/ great heart, mean streak/ spare part speed freak/

If the closing 'Lord's Prayer' wasn't unsatisfying to me, I'd have no qualms giving Lifemask four stars. What is superb about it remains superb, but with a side long piece pulling it down, and something that represents half of the entire album, it's three stars only. Still one of my favourite of Roy's but not a track-for-track knock out. His progressive approach to folk music, or simply music in general, is on display, but his shining moments here appear to be gleaned from the moments where he remains a little more conventional.

dreadpirateroberts | 3/5 |

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