Nick Harper may come from a rich acoustic/folk heritage (his father is Roy, no less) but his music is anything but trad, Dad. Over eight albums he has established himself as a unique voice and player in his own right, and has recently contributed to recordings by Lana Del Rey, Newton Faulkner and Steven Wilson.
On this concept album – songs of light and shade, divided by the title track – his talents are evident on the lurching, staccato strut of Juicy Fruit Girl, an odd pop song that unfolds itself out of the speakers.
The vaudevillian, brilliantly dissonant Beefheart/Tom Waits hybrid Plague Of Toads takes aim at right-wing pundit Kelvin MacKenzie, while jaunty folk reel of The Incredible Melting Man sees Harper turn his ire towards Nick Clegg, a man who has ‘forsaken his ideals to join Lord Snooty’s gang’.
Strange time sigs and imaginative use of acoustic guitar make Riven something akin to prog-skiffle. Harper’s playing is dazzling, unconventional, and his wordy lyrics flow and tumble while producer Tchad Blake (Richard Thompson, Peter Gabriel) allows the music plenty of space. There’s a pleasing Englishness about it all too: eccentric but not wacky; provocative but fun.