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Barclay James  Harvest - Gone To Earth CD (album) cover


Barclay James Harvest


Crossover Prog

3.38 | 194 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Once upon a more innocent time I owned, or had at least heard, close to a dozen Barclay James Harvest LPs, plus a solo album (now only dimly recalled) by guitarist John Lees. Years later the only survivor of the bunch is this 1977 effort, arguably the most typical (if not quite the best) album by a group that hasn't aged very well since their mid-70s heyday. The music itself is best heard today as a rose-colored time-capsule artifact, slightly faded with age but providing a handsome portrait of some exclusively English cultural trends of the time.

Compared to other, better-remembered Progressive bands, BJH may have actually been more of a Regressive Rock group. Even their name recalls the pastoral simplicity of an earlier age, and in its better moments the refined, folk-based richness of their music was like an early autumn sunset over the English countryside, so beautifully captured on the album artwork here. (The original vinyl edition featured a clever cutaway front cover, allowing listeners to change the scenery by simply reversing the inner sleeve.)

They were never in the first rank of Prog Rock innovators, but make no mistake: no one could match them for symphonic grandeur, as the album opener "Hymn" makes abundantly clear. This may be the quintessential BJH song, and the combination of lush 12-string guitars, gorgeous vocal harmonies, and gut-shaking bass pedals is enough to make a believer out of even an old, acknowledged skeptic like myself.

Then there's the band's affectionate, tongue-in-cheek "Nights in White Satin" rip-off, self-mockingly titled "Poor Man's Moody Blues". The song itself is every bit as maudlin as the original, but it's hard not to imagine the Harvesters having a good laugh when they wrote and recorded it (or would borrowed and stole be a more accurate phrase?).

Too bad the rest of the album offers little more than the sort of soft rock your parents might approve of: pleasant, inoffensive, and unambitious, not exactly adjectives you want to apply to supposedly Progressive music. Only on "Leper's Song" does the playing exhibit anything close to real aggression, and the blazing guitar work offers some muscular relief to the otherwise radio-friendly conformity of tracks like "Friend of Mine" (with its generic country-western twang) or the closing ballad "Taking Me Higher", both songs closer in spirit to an Eagles or (gag me) Fleetwood Mac LP.

"Gone to Earth" marked the peak of what now might be called the group's classic period, soon to be followed by the obligatory 2-LP live set and a long, slow fade to redundancy, victims (as were so many others) to changing times and trends. Look at it this way: at least the band didn't bend over backwards to radically alter their style just to suit the fashions of the moment, and for that small act of defiance they deserve a little respect and sympathy.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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