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15 April 2017

Roy Harper ‎– 'Flashes From The Archives Of Oblivion' (Chrysalis)

A good live album captures something that isn't found in the studio, but Flashes from the Archives of Oblivion only does that in, well, flashes. Case in point: track #2, the impeccable 'Commune', sounds pretty much as the version on Valentine does, minus the strings and layered vocals. There's a little fragment of something preceding it, spliced in after the lone studio track on this record ('Home') ends, but otherwise, apart from maybe some hesitations on the tricky fingerpicking, this is just a lesser version. Likewise, 'Me and My Woman', minus David Bedford's strings and accents, is just a really long strummy folk song. And that's my problem with Flashes - it feels often like a contractual obligation record than something proper, though the horrible cover art probably affects my enjoyment.  Which isn't to say there's anything wrong with this; Harper's spoken intros are cute, when present, and the recordings (coming from a variety of shows in the early 70s) are pretty nice sounding. 'Home' bookends the set, studio at the beginning and a faster, jammy live version at the end, and the inclusion of one studio track feels a bit odd, like it might have been better released as a single. Which it actually was, according to discogs.com. It's a great song, a perfect pop concoction with a great 70s rock hood and some nice flute interplay. I do like the more minimal 'Twelve Hours of Sunset', a bit slower and more acoustic, though you could also say it drags a bit. The most extended bit of solo guitar jamming comes on 'One Man Rock and Roll Band' and this is a nice take on the Stormcock classic. But some of the other songs ('Don't You Grieve', for example) aren't anything special in these versions, except maybe when the production rule of 'less is more' is applicable (most obviously on the Lifemask tracks - 'South Africa', 'All Ireland' and 'Highway Blues'). There are some string accompaniments on 'Another Day', and some light backing in other places -- but for the most part this seems to be just Harper solo gig throughout, albeit with some echo effects (or else recorded in very large rooms). I'm not a Harper completist (which I realise is a funny thing to say about someone I own ten albums by) but I keep this collection mostly for the studio version of 'Home', and a side-D jam called 'Too Many Movies',  - a melancholy, electric guitar strummer that touches on memory and popular culture. 

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