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Barclay James  Harvest - Baby James Harvest CD (album) cover

BABY JAMES HARVEST

Barclay James Harvest

 

Crossover Prog

3.00 | 137 ratings

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ZowieZiggy
Prog Reviewer
2 stars The least we can say is that the relation between BJH and their record label ... Harvest were not really great at the time of this release. It will be the last one before signing at Polydor. There were objective reasons for this situation. During the last two years, BJH will produce four albums and play lots of concerts in the UK.

The band was not yet very successful, although the concert halls will be bigger and the audience more important at the end of their Harvest contract. The major problem was financial. BJH had the idea of adding a full symphonic orchestra not only to record their albums, but to perform live as well. Some bands will also do that, but for selected occasion only (remember Purple in 69). BJH will play on a regular basis with the orchestra.

I never really liked this combination. Even if it was integrant part of the BJH sound in their early days, I never understood the reason why they did so. Wooly will mention on the liner notes of the remastered version of "Baby James Harvest" : "I wasn't the instigator of heading in an orchestral direction, but I did embrace it wholeheartedly. Rather than dabble in it. I was totally convinced by the possibilities of orchestrating our music and saw it as the way forward". I have to comply with this view, but frankly, I do not embrace it as Wooly did.

But touring with a full orchestra was a huge expense. John Lees remembers : "That tour was a tremendous logistical exercise. The further North we got, the smaller the orchestra became" !

Major financial problems were around the corner and the record company preferred to call it quit while the band was getting more and more popularity. It will be proven later on that Harvest had made a wrong decision since BJH will sell millions of records during the mid-late seventies. IMO, it will by far their most interesting part of their long career.

The best number on this album is obviously "Summer Soldier". It opens on some "live" effects reflecting the war for about two minutes. This very long piece (their second longest studio one, if I do not forget anything) will feature everything a BJH fan is requiring : a nice melody and smooth vocals. We'll get some "war scenes" again around the sixth minute and finally BJH will produce the most appealing part of the song. We'll finally enter into a beautiful symphonic part. The best moment of the album (but there won't be many).

"Thank You" is another attempt to write a rock'n'roll song. I have already mentioned in my review for "Other Stories" while I was describing the track "Blue Johns Blues", that I really hated John's vocals during such songs. He sounded almost like Alvin Lee (Ten Years After). It is the same here again. Dreadful.

Unfortunately, the other songs won't be good ones either. Mellowish and flat. Is it "Crazy Over (You)"or "Delph Town Morn". "One Hundred Thousand Smiles Out" is slighty better. I have to admit that the long guitar solo in definitely of great added value. A good song after all.

The closing number "Moonwater" will be the hardest song to record. It was a piece written by Wooly. It is a very subtle piece of music, full of beauty during the first part. But the last five minutes are pure classic music. Not an inch of rock in there : horns and violin. That's all.

About this section, Wooly recalls that the orchestra was playing in London while the rest of the band was recording in Stockport (somewhere North of England). When he arrived at the studio, he figured out that the tape was incompatible with the equipment and he had nothing else to do than going back to London to have it recorded it again !

Since the band had foreseen a South African tour (very much criticized at the time), and that they were short of time, John, Les and Mel were working on their own songs without Wooly's presence. They described those sessions as a "schizophrenic work".

The remastered version features a lot of bonus tracks. Mostly B-sides, and alternate version of existing songs. It will also feature one of their single : "I'm Over You". It is one my favourite of the bonus tracks. These bonuses will double the lenght of the original album (actually, they last for about thirty-eight minutes). I must say that they are not worse than most songs from the original album. The rather catchy "When the City Sleeps" being on par with "I'm Over You".

On the contrary "Breathless" leaves me ... breathless. It reminds me some Gary Glitter riff. BJH meets glam. As you may imagine, the result is simply AWFUL.

I believe that the edited version of "Medecine Man" works better than the extended version. We get rid of some useless moments (IMO) to get the core of the track. I do not usually like edited versions, but in this case I must admit that the essence of the track has been kept intact. Very good editing work.

A new single is featured as well (both sides) : "Rock and Roll Woman" b/w "The Joker". The first one is a very poor rock song. Each time that BJH will try and produce a rock'n'roll song, they will lamentably fail. The later will feature rather childish and mellow vocals. The chorus is absolutely ridiculous. I guess that this single was not very successful. Both numbers are very poor.

There will be a "live" version for "Child Of Man" recorded at the BBC studios. Finally, "Moonwater" will be remixed in ...2002 at the Abbey Road studios. On the 15th of January to be precise. Wooly explains : "When I listened to the original multi-track master tape, I realized that there were intruments that were buried in the original mix, partly because everything was done in such a hurry".

"I've always felt slightly disappointed by the original mix and thought it would be interesting to remix the recording using modern technology to get closer to my original vision of the piece". I quite frankly cannot distinguish a lot of difference between the two versions.

If you ever consider to buy this record (which I do not recommend), the remastered version offers a bit more value to the original work.

Actually, I purchased a duo box CD containing "Baby..." together with "Once Again". It sells for cheap (approximately 12 ?) and at least you'll get their best work (by far) under the Harvest label ("Once Again" of course).

It features as well two nice booklets with interesting information about the genesis of these two albums which I have used to highlight this review.

Two stars my little baby.

ZowieZiggy | 2/5 |

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