NICK HARPER Treasure Island (Sangraal)

Seconds into “By My Rocket Comes Fire”, the first track on Nick (yes, son of Roy) Harper’s fifth studio album, it’s already abundantly clear why a Times critic was moved to write. “Harper has so much musicianship in him that it just leaks out all over the place”. A journey through the seven ages of man lashed to a melody that toboggans away at a crazy pace, its helter skelter melody breathlessly suggests Michael Nesmith’s “Rio” en route. The winding, sprawling mystery of “Good Bus” shows Harper has absorbed a great deal of mid-70s John Martyn and Richard & Linda Thompson, although “Intelligent Design?”’s Dubya cut-ups are already a bit dated – Trans Am, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and numerous anonymous bootleggers were round this way years ago.

In fact, it’s generally when Harper gets raucous and political that “Treasure Island” flags. The anti-Bush/Blair rant “Knuckledraggers” may be heartfelt but his hokey American accent hobbles its effectiveness, and the  extremist-shredding call to arms that follows it, “Sleeper Cell” , is no more convincing.

But there are many more moments when it’s a pleasure to reflect on the raw, unpolished quality of Harper’s playing, singing and writing, something that the major label mill would almost certainly have attempted to grind out of him. Instead, he’s free to follow his own idiosyncratic path, to the music’s obvious benefit.

The spectral choir of angels that hovers above “Real Life” is as delightfully unexpected as the white hot shards of his acoustic guitar technique and the encircling birdsong that closes it, disparate elements assembled with care and consideration. And on “Bloom” the paternal DNA is gloriously apparent. By the album’s closer, “A Wiltshire Tale”, Nick’s spinning poetry concrete like a West Country Stanley Unwin. What is there to say but hats off to (boy) Harper?