This is the first, probably the rawest, and possibly the best of Nick's studio albums/EPs. Even though there are only 6 songs on this EP, almost all of them still feature in Nick's live set today. I remember being surprised at how many of these songs I knew by the time I actually bought this. And I've found it's a great way to introduce the unsuspecting to Nick because a) it's stunning, b) it's a lot more like his live sound that a lot of his studio work, and c) it's really reasonably priced. Though of course you should buy it at the gigs or from Quixotic. *ahem* ;)
Stunning really is the word that describes this best. When I realize that this is Nick's first solo recorded work, and not that long after he started playing solo gigs, it seems even more stunning. Most musicians would be lucky to produce something this inspired in a lifetime - for Nick, this was just the beginning. If someone can't understand why Nick's music means so much to me after they hear this, then they'll probably never get it.
Though the guitar work on this whole EP is outstanding, I don't want to ignore what is just as important - the voice and lyrics. He may blow his voice out at regular intervals (!) but damn is it beautiful. I think it's matured a lot since this album, but even here I never tire of hearing it.
A brief note on the songs and their lyrics:
A Hundred Things - The first up, as it often is at Nick's shows, and the introduction to the detuning trick that makes other musicians weep with joy and envy. ;) I am sure my jaw dropped open and stayed that way the first time I heard this song live. Still gives me shivers. I can relate to the lyrics...
Is This Really Me? - I first saw this as the weakest song, just because I found it a bit insipid. I'm warming to it though... the words about a failed relationship are beautiful, and the guitar playing is inspired, thus proving that a middling Harper song is only middling in comparison to other Harper songs!
Shadowlands - "To understand what it is to have nothing - you must have nothing..." - hey it works for me. :) Another firm live favourite with a gorgeous lyric that seems to be about love conquering the shadows.
Flying Dog - At Farnham this year we got a masterclass in Nick's songwriting - he said this one was about the times when he was a bit of a dog, "sticking his bone in all the wrong places" - we're not going there! I love the gently loping and repeating guitar line (with the finger picking beyond precise) and the delicate "but I miss you" at the end. So glad he's started playing this one live again.
Headless - In my humble opinion, the lyrically sexiest song Nick's ever written. A fantastic ode to the night before the morning after! There's too many little lyrical gems in this one to quote - "when we made love we really made it", what more can I say? There's been a lot of debate on the Stormcock mailing list as to whether this line is genius or trite - it's your call, but in the context of the whole song it works so well. Check out the live version on Double Life to see where this song has gone in the past 8 years - paired with the Love Is Music riff, it is huge, wonderfully out of control and one of the string-break classics. This is probably my favourite of Nick's songs, but ask me again next week!
Riverside - The best the 12-string has to offer. This one, to me, best fits my "stunning" description. Goes through many moods in 4 minutes, from gentle solitude to storminess and back again. I'll just say I have no idea how he comes up with instrumental work this amazing, and leave it at that.
The verdict: may be the first, but pretty close to the best. 4 1/2 stars out of 5.