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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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4 stars 'Gone to Earth' is apparently the most commercially successful Barclay James Harvest album and especially in Germany where for some reason it launched itself onto the top- selling albums charts there and stayed until well into 1980.

The band apparently was pleased with the results of self-producing the prior year's 'Octoberon' along with David Rohl (Mandalaband), so much so in fact that they retired to Strawberry Studios in the early spring of 1977 to do it again. 'Gone to Earth' is the result.

There are definitely similarities between the two albums, although of the two this one is a bit more rocking without an orchestra or choir, and tends to eschew most synthesized orchestral sounds in favor of more straightforward organ and piano to complement Lees' ever-soaring guitar work.

The opening "Hymn" is about as perfect an example of a prototypical Barclay James Harvest song as you'll find anywhere. It has everything: Woolly Wolstenholme's grand organ framing a spacious and building rhythm; Lees' efficient yet brilliant guitar riffs; Mel Pritchard's quietly supportive percussion with its sense of effortless brilliance in placement of rolls and snares; Les Holroyd's comfortable accompaniment on both rhythm guitar and vocals; and a theme for the ages (self-destructive behavior and particularly substance abuse) that respects and acknowledges a moral compass without being preachy or judgmental. This one belongs on every hit collection or anthology of the band, and should be included in any mix playlists you make of their music as well. I could say the same for "Spirit on the Water" although it doesn't stand out in quite the way this one does.

"Love if Like a Violin" is a typical British pop-rock tune of the mid-seventies and could have come from the likes of 10cc, Supertramp, Decameron, Heron or any of a hundred similar bands. Decent but not noteworthy. "Friend of Mine" on the other hand shows some signs of influences from the band's earlier foray into recording on the U.S. West Coast with their 'Time Honoured Ghosts' release. This one has the same easy country-rock feel with contemporary white-blues riffs, simple rhythm and the sheen of solid production. I'm surprised this one didn't end up on the radio mixed in with a bunch of Eagles, Poco and Firefall singles. I'd make the same comments about "Hard Hearted Women" which appears on the flip side of the original vinyl release.

And you knew it had to happen eventually. John Lees gets fed up with his band being referred to as 'a poor man's Moody Blues' and speaks out as he does best, with a song. And does so in the most endearing way possible, but taking the same chord structure from the Moody's most famous song "Nights in White Satin" and reworking that as a completely different tune steeped in BJH's own trademark synthesized orchestral sounds and lots and lots of mellotron. Just like the Moodys, only different. Quite brilliant and apparently a fan live show favorite for many years.

"Sea of Tanquility" is a somber and somewhat uncomfortable song from Wolstenholme that is, like pretty much everything he wrote, full of bombastic keyboards, mellotron, layered real and synthesized vocal accompaniment, and in general a majestic, sweeping piece of music. The theme is about the 'space race' of that day, and Woolly takes a dim view of the ultimate value of likely outcome of the effort. Some, including the band itself have suggested that the words may also represent his feelings toward his involvement in the band, and in fact he would depart less than two years after the album's release.

I really like the way this album ends. "Leper's Song" is almost a requiem for a time in music that is fast fading, but is delivered with an almost defiant energy much like so much of Roger Hodgson's work with Supertramp around the same time. In fact, once again the band reminds me a lot of Supertramp with soaring guitar and chatty vocals that speak to social alienation in a weirdly uplifting and inclusive way. And the closing "Taking me Higher" is a tender love song set to piano and organ with tender vocals that closes the album in an optimistic way and hints at a bright future for the band's music. This was not to be of course, but for the time being at least Barclay James Harvest was definitely at the top of their game as a creative force.

I can't get into this album quite as much as 'Octoberon' or really even 'Time Honoured Ghosts', the latter which I have a special affinity for due to its American influences. But for BJH fans this is an essential recording, and one that I recommend highly to anyone interested in the band or even in the state of progressive music as the seventies began to wind down. Four stars for sure.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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