Around three years ago, hardly an explorer of the world of 60s folk, I accompanied my dad to a concert in a church-cum-art gallery just outside Birmingham. Amongst the grey backstreet workshops and graffiti-scrawled warehouses, we were going to see Robin Williamson, once co-frontman of the 60s group The Incredible String Band, famed for his long-haired mystical musings drawn out in enigmatic lyrics. My dad had always seen something brilliant in Williamson, which is why we were trekking to a grimy out-of-town exhibition opening to see the multi-instrumentalist play.

Completely naïve of that scene, I was shocked to discover that most of the grey-haired roadie-types in the gallery were famous, and as my dad named them one by one, I realised that two names even I had heard before were in our midst - Donovan and Roy Harper. I doubt there were as many people as instruments in that tiny room, but it epitomised the community feeling of the 'hippy' scene: nobody played the big star, and it was truly all about sharing music.

On track one of CD one, before he even starts singing, Roy Harper has missed a note on guitar, an unintentional muting in a complex finger-picked sequence. I didn't expect it, but I realised quickly that the occasional missed strum and stammer on Harper's part is no bad thing: too much music today is slickened by a hot-shot producer, losing its charm in the mix. Songs of Love and Loss is raw in its feeling, however acoustically that feeling is expressed. Harper relies, for most of the tracks, on his lyrics, his unexceptional yet expressive voice, and the pure skill in his folk-rock-blues guitar playing. The beautiful finger picking bends folk's traditional rules, which is why it can't really be classed as folk. Steering clear of the usual pentatonics and atonality, Harper's guitar often finds more unexpected harmonies, contrasting with an assortment of well-chosen instruments in the background. Although every track has its merits, those which particularly encapsulate what Roy Harper has to offer include 'South Africa', with its entwined guitar lines, lamenting 'Another Day', bluesy 'Little Lady' and the brittle yet resonating 'Frozen Moment'.

Harper has made a name for his "intense, mischievous, intelligent, personal and poetic" lyrics. It's definitely true that the poet's traditional obsessions with skies and flowers are all present and correct on Songs of Love and Loss. However, clouds and honeysuckle are not all he has to offer lyrically; in fact, much of this album consists of disguised tirades against people he once knew (listen to 'My Friend', for instance, on which it's clear that his friend is not his friend anymore). On the other hand, I have to question whether the words "kettles on, the sun has gone, another day" would be mocked from the mouths of any new singer-songwriter.

Roy Harper's cult following from the 60s and 70s never left him, because the folk scene has a way of blossoming through everything*, and so I don't doubt that Harper's double album will have an audience, particularly given the constant output on his website and blog. Perhaps this compilation will be a way to bring his oldest records to a new, younger audience of singer-songwriter lovers, which would be a great thing. No matter those stray questionable lines (for which, maybe, he can be given the benefit of the doubt), Songs of Love and Loss is a very good album - a soothing listen, though laden with honesty and emotion, and a lesson in how to be inspirational. If I'd been less naïve before that Robin Williamson event a few years back, I would definitely have shaken Roy Harper's hand.

*Although this makes folk music sound more like a weed than a rose, that's all personal opinion.

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