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Barclay James  Harvest - Time Honoured Ghosts CD (album) cover

TIME HONOURED GHOSTS

Barclay James Harvest

 

Crossover Prog

3.62 | 141 ratings

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Kotro
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Ghosts from the past

In an attempt to dote my sporadic reviewing with a bit of order, I made the recent decision of going through albums that I own alphabetically, a decision that is proving to be both a pain and a pleasure - on one hand, I can only rarely find the will to write something mildly useful to possible readers when being compelled, rather than inspired; on the other hand, this method not only encourages a more dedicated way of dabbling with reviews, but also brought to my attention a few records I hadn't heard in ages. That's probably one of the reasons why I'm sticking to it for the time being. So, it was due to this "policy" that I once more crossed paths with Barclay James Harvest's Time Honoured Ghosts, an album I had not heard in over 10 years. And such a special album it is - it belongs in the restricted group of the first few albums I heard and liked, way back when I had no knowledge of the concepts "Art-Rock" or "Progressive-Rock" - music was just music.

Artwork usually gives you an impression of what's the come when you put the record on. I wasn't that surprised to hear the opener 21st Century Schizoid Man when first played In the Court of the Crimson King - the terrified look in the cover kinda gave it way (I was much more pleasantly surprised by the rest of the album!). This was not the case with BJH's Time Honoured Ghosts - the bucolic artwork made me think of gentle acoustic guitars, a sweet harmonica, a delicate folky feel - everything but the explosive guitars and martial drumming of the opening track, In My Life. When I think of all the influential solos that made me pick up the electric guitar, this one still haunts me, even if, like I said, I hadn't heard it in over 10 years. The track continues in a western influenced mood, almost transporting us ridding to Rancho Ponderosa. A quieter part then follows, the guitars and drums are silenced and all we hear is the celestial choir of the Mellotron supporting the soothing vocals. Organ, choir, speed-up of the guitar, crescendo, and the blazing return to the initial section that now closes this stunning opener. It is followed by the kind of folk ballad I was waiting to hear when first taking the record out - Sweet Jesus is dominated by acoustic guitar, Hammond, and vocal harmonies in the vein of Crosby Stills Nash & Young, with the occasional appearance of the electric guitar for a discrete but effective solo. Titles is a nice exercise of Beatles emulation, taking the Fab 4's song titles and some of their famous licks to produce a semi-original work. Delightful arrangements and little details make this otherwise simply curious track into a pleasant listening experience. After 10 years, my memories of this album were limited to the first five tracks (Side One, as it was). Yet as I was hearing the fourth track, Jonathan, I couldn't remember what was it I enjoyed about it - it starts as another delicate acoustic ballad, with an unimpressive keyboard soundscape (quasi-orchestral, but not in an exciting way) in the background, complemented by some lazy drumming. A rather cheesy track, I thought, still wondering what was it I enjoyed in this track. Then, after about 2 minutes, it all came back to me - the finale. After a repetition of the first sung part, the Mellotron-drenched finale begun, with the spacey atmosphere and the scorching, out of control guitar - a finale that ends a bit too soon, deserving of being explored a few more minutes. The first side of the LP was closed by the highly symphonic Beyond the Grave. Listening to its opening marching beat and guitars, one can easily imagine where Roger Waters got the inspiration for In The Flesh. The beating crescendo gives way to a spectacular keyboard passage (the kind you would find on a J.M. Jarre album), that fades away giving its place to the majestic vocals. Not a hint of folk in this haunting, keyboard-drenched track. Just like In My Life, the opening section returns to bring the song (and the first side of the album) to a close.

Side Two remained the most mysterious one to me, in this rediscovery of Time Honoured Ghosts. With the exception of the first half of Jonathan, Side One was vividly implanted in my memory - the same did not occur with Side Two. Its opener kicks off with a nice guitar riff and organ, very reminiscent of The Nice. The beat and structure of the song are rather unimpressive, pretty much standard rock, if it weren't for the Niceish organ explosions once in a while. Features a piano and acoustic guitar dominated middle section (with loads of keyboards textures in the background), where the vocals once more take on a more soothing tone, and ballad-like, that continues until the end. The start of the next track, Hymn for the Children, reminds me a lot of The Byrds' classic song Turn Turn Turn, but it soon turns (no pun intended) into a lot more. The vocals are similar, but the emotional chorus of the song truly sets the difference, with its keyboards and percussion. The speeding up of the rhythm after the first chorus ends all comparison. The ending, while still pleasant, could be better, but it takes no thrill away from this beautiful song. Moongirl opens with a Santana-like guitar solo backed by organ. Vocals then enter, backed only by what sounds like harpsichord. The organ and assorted keyboards return for the charming chorus, which is followed by the same guitar solo from the beginning. The chorus then reprises, retrieving the harpsichord that and other keyboards which bring the song to a close in a slow fade-out. The final track, One Night opens in an interesting way - a rather gloomy guitar solo gives way to a more cheerful beat and singing (despite the unfortunate nature of the theme), characterized by the drumming and acoustic guitar playing. The vocals in chorus are once more similar to what one would expect to hear in a Crosby Stills Nash & Young song. It is followed, however, by an exquisite but short guitar solo in crescendo. We hear again the first section, with the track following the typical pop song structure - this soon changes, as the unusual second solo (the same from the opening) is heard, followed by the middle one. And, once more, like a never-ending cycle, the same sung structure is repeated - but this time, the solo that follows is longer, growing more impressive - sadly, this happens just as it is beginning to fade-away, bringing the album to a close.

This album brings back a lot of memories, of days of yore when I was just a young toddler going through my parents' vinyl relics, discovering gems at every opening of a gatefold. Perhaps this nostalgia is what makes me so fond of this album, rating it perhaps a bit higher than it deserves for the purposes of a progressive rock review. This is because at no point do we witness in this album an attempt to extend the boundaries of rock music - these is nothing exceptional about Time Honoured Ghosts, no breakthrough has been made. It is pretty much a straightforward rock album, with elements of folk and symphonic prog and, no point in hiding it, a bit of pop. There is a clear influence of American Folk, mostly in the vocals, via Crosby Stills Nash & Young and their quintessential album Dejà Vu, but the manner of the arrangements and composition is still pure British symphonic. It's funny to think, while revisiting this childhood memory, how much I like this album, which makes me wonder why I never felt the urge to explore more of Barclay James Harvest. But hey, I guess it's never too late.

Kotro | 4/5 |

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