Sometimes choosing a favorite album from an artist you consider one of the all time greats can feel daunting, if not downright impossible. With Roy Harper though, one album clearly outshines the rest for me -- 1974's Valentine.
The theme is love, of course, and the album floats past on waves of strings and picking, overwhelming moments and golden sunshine. Most of the songs are about falling in love, making this an apt springtime listen: "For there we stood two children of spring/ As everything seemed to be gleaming"...Roy sings on "Commune." You can listen to "Commune" below, followed by another effortlessly fluid and favorite (though appearing for the second time on a Harper record) Valentine track, "Forever." These versions came from a BBC appearance though, and are different from the album, though not short on plucking intricacy and perfectly pastoral lyrics :
This album has an otherworldly, out of time to it. A gauzy softness coats the tunes and thus my mind as I listen. It brings a transporting feeling. There are stories of love and loss, the thrill and the reality, but mostly the tracks are about love in its highest, purest sense, giddy with descriptive details. And the sounds and sentiments of the few songs about longing and/or loss, like the album's dramatic center "I'll See You Again" and Harper's lovely cover of the perennial "North Country," don't break the spell of the record but rather enrich it.
Here's a particularly dreamy number about a long plane ride, "Twelve Hours of Sunset":
It must be noted that there are unfortunately a few moments that are less than spectacular and break the mood. I always skip right through two songs that just don't fit the vibe, regardless of if I am listening to Valentine on CD or vinyl: "Male Chauvinist Pig Blues (name alone says enough!) and "Magic Woman Liberation Reshuffle" (ditto), but the rest of this beauteous work makes up for that in spades.
I also have to admit I am creeped out by the pedophiliac possibilities described in "Forbidden Fruit" ("Let me hold your thirteen years...") As with Van Morrison's epic "Cyprus Avenue" ("So young and bold/ Fourteen years old..."), even though my brain is fairly disgusted, the song still moves the rest of me...To say that even that doesn't wreck this majestic album means there's something really going on on Valentine. And it can be said that even though this man's weapon of choice is the often benign-appearing acoustic guitar, he's not one to ever play it safe or hold back.
Here's a live version of "North Country" from 1978: