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

TIME HONOURED GHOSTS

Barclay James Harvest

 

Crossover Prog

3.62 | 137 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars 'Time Honoured Ghosts' was recorded in the U.S. with an American producer and at times the influences of the seventies West Coast sound come through in these songs, particularly early in the album. Elliot Mazer had been a longtime producer when he was tapped for this record, crafting commercially and artistically successful albums for the likes of Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, It's a Beautiful Day, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Gordon Lightfoot, all North American artists with more than a tinge of country and modern folk in their sound. The location was His Master's Wheels studio in San Francisco, which had yielded well-received albums from the likes of Rory Gallagher, Journey, Santana and the Dead.

Not that this is a country-rock album, far from it in fact. But Mazer was quoted as saying his motivation in producing it was that he felt BJH had been "overpowered" by orchestral arrangements on some of their prior work, and he wanted to focus on highlighting their musical talents versus embellishing their songs with the lush instrumentation they were more accustomed to. He was partially successful.

The opening "In My Life" and "Sweet Jesus" both could have easily come from any number of American bands. There's nary a trace of string orchestration and little keyboard work, especially on "In My Life". I'm not sure what the song is about, maybe a cautionary tale about being a bad person or some sort of thing like that (the repetitive refrain "you reap what you sow" seems to indicate as much). This is a John Lees composition and he flat out wails on electric guitar, which combined with the two- and three- part harmonies comes off sounding like very much like the sort of country/blues/folksy/easy-going music that was quite prevalent around the Bay area at the time. "Sweet Jesus" seems to be a quasi- spiritual tune, mellow with tasty guitar licks and acoustic accompaniment and also plenty of harmonizing. This album came out at the end of the Jesus freak music era which was especially strong on the West Coast, so perhaps the band was either influenced by the sounds around them or simply felt the song's theme would resonate with that element of the mid-seventies music scene. Either way it's an unusual song for BJH but is appealing and well-delivered.

Lees seems to have had a penchant for clever songs back in the day, perhaps as a way to overcome writer's block or maybe just because he felt showcasing the music was sometimes more important than the lyrics. Either way "Titles" is one of those, another easy- going tune with layered vocals delivered in somber keys and consisting of nothing more than Beatles song titles strung together with snippets of lyrics from the same songs and a persistent refrain of "Lady Madonna, let it be". A pleasant tune though in reality not much more than well-disguised filler for a band of this caliber. But still quite pleasant.

Holroyd wrote "Jonathan" as a tribute to the uber-famous Richard Bach novella 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull', a story about self-awareness and personal growth told from the vantage point of a bird. Here Wolstenholme's keyboards begin to noticeably work their way into the music for the first time, and with this and the next track "Beyond the Grave" the band morphs back completely to the symphonic and slightly baroque sound of their early work. Wooly lays down bombastic organ bleats with heavy crescendos and Lees' electric guitar with an abrupt and somewhat unexpected ending. Next on "Song for You" (composed by Wolstenholme) he shifts to a sort of Styx-sounding series of trilling keyboard sequences along with Lees on electric guitar, though midway through the sound switches to a more acoustic motif, again mostly Lees on guitar and Wooly moving to piano for the duration.

"Hymn for the Children" is another one of those Holroyd songs about everybody loving one another and making the world a better place, this one moving slightly back to the West Coast harmonizing sound ala CSN&Y or some of the more poignant Grateful Dead songs of the same period. "Moongirl", another Holroyd tune, is similar but as with "Beyond the Grave" more steeped in organ and synthesized keyboard sounds than most of the rest of the album.

Lees manages another odd subject with the closing "One Night", a mostly acoustic and somber number that tells the story of a one night stand with a prostitute told from the view of the john. As with most of Lees' songs it isn't judgmental as much as reflective. I'm not sure what he meant to achieve with this one but the backing vocals, simple organ work and easy-going rhythm bring the overall album vibe back around to where it started and give the impression of continuity and a sense of completeness for the listener.

I don't know all the background of why the band and Polydor decided to record this album in San Francisco with an American producer, but that decision combined with changing musical tastes of the time resulted in one of the more unique Barclay James Harvest albums. Their next release 'Octoberon' would take a decidedly different direction. But this one has aged well and it is still a great example of what the band could achieve without having to completely wrap themselves in strings and orchestral fluff, so maybe Mazer was on to something after all. I'll go with four stars here and a high recommendation, especially for those only casually familiar with BJH. This is one you really should hear.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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