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Barclay James  Harvest - XII CD (album) cover

XII

Barclay James Harvest

 

Crossover Prog

3.56 | 107 ratings

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kenethlevine
Special Collaborator
Prog-Folk Team
4 stars Compared to all their other efforts up to that point, and given its release in the vinyl age, "XII" is a sprawling affair, including more songs than usual for the group, but really nothing epic. All three songwriters have a significant role, and this would be one of the last times that their contributions would really mesh together. Although a diverse disc, it somehow manages to seem more than a random collection of songs, which is almost a prerequisite for a 4 star album in my book. Perhaps this is because of the loose thematic concept of different literary styles that accompany the 5 John Lees compositions, and the slotting of Holroyd and Wolstenholme's gifts in between. Sure there are missteps, and the overall feel is more mainstream, but the progressive subtleties, folky tendencies, diverse keyboards and high end harmonies are all intact. My review is based on the original LP.

The opener "Loving is Easy" shocks us to life. Is this a hard rock BJH? The lyrics are somewhat trite and vitriolic, and aimed at a lover apparently. Not what we have come to expect from Mr Lees, but, when John's expressive leads have faded against the backdrop of an infectious beat, it must be said that this is one of his successful attempts at rocking out. It is not a total abandonment of the trademark BJH sound but yet it cooks like they rarely do. This track segues into one of the band's best ballads ever, Holroyd's "Berlin", an atmospheric keyboard dominated affair with a bittersweet melody. Then it's back to the rockers, this time much less successfully. "Tale of Two Sixties" and "Turning in Circles" represent the nadir of the album. The former is yet another Lees novelty tune with references to all manner of 60s and 70s artists and albums, so it is actually tolerable for one or two listens, not the stuff of which prog rock is made, while the latter is just a dreadful Holroyd rocker, one of the worst things the band ever did. But the two tracks that close the original side 1 more than make up for these. "The Closed Shop" is an almost celtic sounding number, due to its accordion sounding instrument, probably a keyboard, and its haunting melody. A brave move for the group. "In Search of England" shows that Woolly still has it in him, as it weds his tendency to overemote with a brilliantly expressive guitar melody.

Side 2 is actually the stronger, with all songs being at least good. Holroyd's contributions "Sip of Wine" and "Giving it Up" compensate for simple inconsequential lyrics with well timed and arranged instrumentation, the first being more gentle rocker and the second atmospheric acoustic. Lees weighs in with the slow paced cosmic ballad "Nova Lepidoptera". Now to this day I feel this is a rip off of someone's melody but it is so beautiful that I don't care. It also marks a rare return of the dual lead guitars that we heard a few times on "Everyone is Everybody Else". His other song is the album closer "Streets of San Francisco" which is also slow, and utilizes harmonica for the first and, as far as I know, only time in the band's history. This gives it a bluesy feel, but the string synths/mellotrons also ties the tune to the band's lexicon. Certainly something different, as was the album opener. On "XII", we are also treated to a second Wolstenholme composition, the luscious "Harbour", with some of the old BJH feel brought into the present. Its main quality is the vocal harmonies, but John's short sweet lead solo is worth the entry fee on its own.

So with XII, we see some signs, especially early on, that the band is evolving into a different beast, or perhaps retrenching, retreating into itself, but also plenty of signs of life and, most importantly, a healthy dose of fine songs. A great way to end the 70s for a group that had stayed intact for XII full years.

kenethlevine | 4/5 |

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