It would be difficult for me to decide whether I enjoy this self-titled debut or the follow-up, Crafty Hands, more. Hopefully I'll never have to decide.
For those unfamiliar with the group, Happy the Man are primarily instrumental (though not always) and consist of the usual drums/bass/guitar and keys but also have an additional member who takes on woodwinds and more keys. They are generally one of the most respected US progressive outfits of the seventies.
As is made clear now that two albums of previously unreleased pre-debut album material have surfaced in the nineties, their self-titled album is actually the product of a well-rehearsed and tight band. I won't compare them to any of the well-known UK bands because I think their sound is uniquely their own. They are rock-based with a very heavy dose of jazz and some classical and have a very pleasing sense of melody and atmosphere, but their biggest strength lies in their ability to create very intricate and enjoyable rythms, often employing interesting time signatures.
Many of these characteristics might seem common to progressive bands, but HtM does it with a certain wit that really makes it fun to listen to. This is really shown in songs such as "Stumpy Meets the Firecracker In Stencil Forest" or "Knee Bitten Nymphs in Limbo". Imagine instrumental music that could match such titles- this is it. Other songs have more of a dreamlike quality to them and acheive the effect New Age aims at but without being washed out or boring. And then one song, "Carousel"- a nightmarish amusement park soundtrack- offers some emotional contrast to these.
2 of the 9 songs contain vocals, which are often cited as HtMs weakest trait. I must admit to agreeing with this to a certain extent- Stan's voice is somewhat throaty and dry. Some people skip these tracks, but I think the songs themselves are good enough that I enjoy them despite this problem.
I'm always excited to listen to this debut release one more time. HtM are often called "the greatest US prog band", and this album definately helps to support that statement.
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