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Arthur (Arthur Lee Harper) - 1967 - Dreams and Images
This is a relatively obscure artist from the US who recorded two albums in the late 1960s and then one more in the mid 1970s. The first and most known two are collected here on one reissued CD and were produced by Lee Hazlewood, the famous arranger and musician of the period. These two albums are introspective loner folk-based music with a whimsical acoustic song of guitar and gently yearning vocals complemented by understated strings and woodwinds. These songs have a distant, late night quality being simple and rather delicate in style. On the first album there is perhaps a doomed romantic aspect with the instruments providing a touch of chamber music to the songs. Fans of Melanie, early Simon and Garfunkal or UK musicians like Duncan Browne would probably enjoy the songs a lot. Lyrically the album is often hippie fey such as on 'Sunshine Solider' with it's fugal horn and electric organ. However at this distance this is perhaps charming rather than irritating. Songs such as 'A Friend Of Mine' are quietly moving and realised in a quite beautiful way.
If there is a genre of 'ambient folk chamber music' then this would be its prime exponent. Like Love or Tim Buckley there is also a quest to explore different arrangements and instruments with 'Open Up The Door' having a dulcimer sound trying to be like a harpsichord. 'Dreams and Images' introduces mysterious flute melodies. 'Pandora' has a dream like quality with electric piano, cello and an air of strangeness. 'Wintertime' is gorgeous seasonal folk with a simple, direct arrangement of guitar, plucked strings and violin.
On the second album the hippie whimsy seems to have turned more to protest with 'new day, revolution, new day, everybody is arming' lyrics from the off. The music is a little more folk-rock though still fairly light in touch but with more obvious electric guitar, drums and violin. Unfortunately the second album doesn't have the variety of the first and instead carries on the light folk-rock throughout with a protest element, however this isn't exactly MC5. 'Strange Song' stands out as more like the first album but with somewhat annoying religious lyrics that the do not do justice to the melody such as 'come recreation, save the nation'.
There is little wrong with these folk-rock backings but the voice is just to fey to carry them off, it needs the soaring roaring quality of a Tim Buckley or Sandy Denny and often the arrangements do not carry a strong melody. On 'Annie Moore' there is piercing fuzz guitar that seems to liven up the track considerably and add a missing component allowing the voice not to carry the melody and work much better. On 'I/Soldier/Time Love' we see the vocalist more obviously trying to copy Tim Buckley but without the same depth of personality. 'Eleanor' harks back to the first album and it's a poised ballad of wonderful quality though perhaps by now it is out of place on the more jazzy folk-rock second album.
I imagine these will be promoted as 'psych folk' or something similar and while there is perhaps a whiff of illegal substances this isn't psychedelia but folk based pop music sometimes of exquisite quality. It reminds often of early Tir Na Nog, Heron or Waterfall (reviewed in this site) and is worth picking up if you like the late 60s folk pop sound.