HØØT (Independent)
Rick Harper

By Dan Burns

One can just picture the scene

Crowded room. Way too little air circulating. Wire, cables, cords, microphones and other various and sundry implements of destruction strewn about. In the middle of this chaos sits Rick Harper, ol' Rickenharper himself, strumming another chord on his guitar or attempting to fix a tape deck that should have been thrown away back around '82. He's up to no good, this enigmatic everyman songwriter. Lucky we get to hear the results.

Fairly hot on the heels of his wonderful Rickenharper album (released late in 1997) comes this relatively concise exercise in mind over equipment (and money) called - quite appropriately, now that I think of it - HØØT. This time out, Harper's thrown in a few cover songs by a few of his songwriting heroes (The Byrds' Gene Clark and Roger McGuinn, and British folkie and guitarist Bert Jansch) and added a couple of different versions of the lead song from his last album "When You Were."

The tone of HØØT is fairly complex to explain, much like the man who bore these songs - kinda dark, acoustic and spare, but not without its moments of humor and release. McGuinn's "Lover Of The Bayou" and, especially., "Bucket Fulla Brains" (1 can't tell from this whether he's pro- or anti-meat eating, see if you can) sound like something Roky Erikson could have done. "Sing" and "Those Salty Tears Can Sting" re-trace familiar Rickenharper ground with their somber tones and "loves lost" themes. "The Light Of Love" seems pretty lightweight at first, but Harper's love and knowledge of classic pop hook-age prevail after a couple of listens.

There are at least four amazing songs on HØØT, including, "So You Say You Lost Your Baby," the Gene Clark tune, which leads off the album. To say that he "makes it his own" would be an understatement of what he does to this fairly non-descript ditty. Buoyed by some really emotional singing and harmonies that sound so natural and simple that you'll swear you'd be able to duplicate them (but you can't, so give it up), Harper gives us a preview of things to come.

"On Sundays I Leave It Alone" is simply marvelous. ("I know it's a hard life, baby, I live it hard every day of the week but on Sundays I leave it alone") He's doesn't try to kid anybody; life is certainly hard. But a (wo)man needs a day off. Sunday is Rick Harper's day off, so don't go messing up his good life on the Sabbath. I'm pretty sure he'll let you buy him a bear if you happen to see him on a Sunday, however.

HØØT's tour de force is the ten-and-a half minute "Mantra (Waiting For The End Of These Blues)," and it's quite an accomplishment Anchored by a six-minute, droning outro that's positively hypnotizing, 'Mantra" contains some of Harper's best lyrical moments, and - I swear to God - reminds me of a outtake from Exile on Main Street or The Beatles "White Album" .

The best is "Worse," track #2: "It can't get any better, baby, I guess it has to get worse" is the best Randy Newman line he's never written Think John Lennon. Harper won't mind.

It's here for the asking, friends. A real keeper of an album by a Louisville musician with more taste than recording equipment, a better sense of irony than most, and a lot more ideas where these came from. Harper hates it when I call him "Louisville's Van Dyke Parks" (he always tells me he's 'much better than that'), so I won't, I've changed my mind, anyway. I say he's "Louisville's Dan Hicks meets Jonathan Richman and Neil Young at J. J. Cale's garage sale-man."

Nah. Too long, Let's just all him what he is, "Louisville's Pop Spaceman."