Nick Harper's latest studio album "Miracles for Beginners" was released on Monday 4th June, and I got my copy today (Tuesday 5th) thanks to Amazon. I was very excited to hear the new album as it promised to be a more "cut-down" production, allowing Nick's superlative guitar playing and very flexible voice to come to the fore. I felt that some of the previous studio offerings were somewhat over-embellished with instrumentation. Anyone that's seen Nick play live can testify that he doesn't need anything other than the trusty Lowden, some guitar effects, and his voice (which does take some extreme punishment at times... I suppose that could be said for the Lowden too!) to captivate and mesmerise an audience.
Some of the tracks do include drums and bass (1,6,7 and 8) and keyboards (1,10). The liner notes would have you believe these instruments are played by people such as Margaret Dumont, Thelma Todd and Mae Busch, though some internet searches might lead you to think that there might be something a bit fishy going on here...
So what is it like? Well, some of the songs have had outings in recent gigs and make their transition to record really well. I can honestly say that, this time round, I do not feel that the live "vibe" to the songs has been lost at all. "Blue Sky Thinking" (the single) and "The Field of the Cloth of Gold" are just perfect examples of acoustic music, not to mention "Simple" which is wonderfully augmented by some Harpic chorals in the background. I even like the song about football (Evo) which is going some for a sport-hater like myself.
I can take or leave one or two tracks, like "Always" and "Your Love Has Saved Me from Myself" but it is always a little difficult to get to grips with new songs on the first few listens so that may change. It's interesting that these tracks are the most musically embellished, so perhaps my personal listening prejudices are showing there.
Lyrically I feel Nick has blossomed enormously. I like the direct and unsubtle political leanings of some tracks on earlier albums such as "The Magnificent G7" and "Mr Grey", but with this record I feel Nick has really clinched it. The words and the music of "Cloth of Gold" seem to merge together wonderfully so that you can't hum the music without the words popping into your head, or indeed recite the words without the tune playing itself.
I've said this before, but Nick deserves wider recognition, more so than any other artist I can think of and certainly more than many that have "made it". I hope this record helps him achieve that. Let's get the word out there.
It'd be great to have others comments on the new record added to this post...