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Barclay James  Harvest - Once Again CD (album) cover


Barclay James Harvest


Crossover Prog

3.80 | 229 ratings

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4 stars Barclay James Harvest are quite hard to evaluate in terms of Prog Rock, because although they undoubtedly have the "Vibe", and with Robert Godfrey (later of The Enid) behind the knobs, the general feeling of "Once Again" is of majestrial grace - really all BJH did was to write a lot of awfully good songs (and a few bloopers).

This is not an album for those who wish to be challenged by the music, it is an album for those wind-down moments of deep relaxation, and transportation into a pillowy world of soft, yet beautifully melancholic sound.

So get yourself into the right head-space, lie back and enjoy the sublime and rich music with a core of melancholy nostalgia - and this album will take your breath away, as it is one of Barclay James Harvest's finest offerings.

Immediately we notice the nostalgic feel in the production, with washes of Mellotron, as BJH go straight into the achingly beautiful "She Said". The vocals carry a more than passing resemblance to Justin Haywards and the perfect melodic guitar solos accent the drama in the music perfectly. Underneath this, Mel Pritchard plays around with drum patterns that manage to provide a swirling maelstrom of continuity and sensitive build-up.

Everything drops away to a gorgeous little passage of mellotron, echoing the main theme, and developing the material gently, in what could vaguley pass for a symphonic manner. I don't see anyone credited with playing the recorder, but there's definitely one in there somewhere... This then passes into what could be seen as a second mini bridge, with more soloing - a little less focussed initially, but he soon finds the high notes and lets that baby rip before the chorus returns.

Overall, the construction of this piece feels quite similar to "In The Court...", but BJH do not have the musicianship to explore the music as throughly as KC - and the song does end up feeling more ballad-like than perhaps it should. However, this is fundamental to the BJH sound, and is quite magnificent in itself.

"Happy Old World" is curious because of the chorus, which breaks the spine-chilling melancholy of the verses in all but the vocals - which robs it of any of the sincerity - or more likely irony - that it might otherwise have had.

That (not insignificant) niggle aside, there are some wonderful ambient textures at work in the verses which make it worth the slight cringe in the chorus. The burn- out is especially beautiful, although waaay too short, with a delicate piano line weaving around the other shimmering keyboard sounds and Pritchard's quasi-jazzy drumming.

"Song For Dying" is classic BJH, with real power and drama in the songwriting... and a few fairly painful fluffs in the guitar. The piano-driven verses carry a vaguely Beatles- like flavour, and only BJH could make a series of major chords sound melancholy. The wash of vocal harmonies and Mellotron with walking bass lines feeding into the fade- out at the end is masterly in dynamic and emotional chill factor.

"Galadriel" rounds off side one of the vinyl nicely, with a picked guitar intro, Mellotron and strings driving an arcing melody that just resonates with the soul. I find the trumpets in the orchestral backing a little baffling initially, but the orchestration generally is masterful, and way beyond the half-hearted mess that accompanies the Moodies' "A Question of Balance".

Side 2 kicks off with the very best track on the album - and one of the best songs in BJH's entire catalogue.

"Mockingbird" is a song that you NEED to hear, Proghole!

Godfrey's orchestration is out of this world, Holroyd pens one of the greatest melodies of all time, and that burn-out is a masterpiece in itself. This song is a masterpiece of Prog Rock, even if the album as a whole isn't.

"Vanessa Simmons" is a kind of low point in terms of Prog - it's just a harmless little acoustic song, and certainly not the lowest point on this album... It fits in well - it's certainly no "No Fool Me", but it's pleasant, relaxing and part of the BJH soundscape.

"Ball and chain" is more like it - it appears to be loosely modelled on the Janis Joplin song, and is interesting because of that, as well as being a very interesting composition, with more drive and ROCK than the previous offerings. The vocalist shows that he can do blues as well as plain melancholy, there some nice walking bass lines, plenty of space in the arrangements and some nice blues-flavoured workouts with the trademark BJH sound coming through strongly.

"Lady loves" wraps up the album, with a peculiar Coutry and Western flavour... Now while I'm not a fan of C&W by any stretch of the imagination, I suppose it shows BJH experimenting with different styles, if nothing else...

This is where I normally stop the album, as "Lady Loves" is quite horrible, in my opinion, and derivative of several songs that I could list, but won't, as I've rambled on for too long as usual, and this song is not worth spending any time on.

In summary, a great album of somewhat simplistic Prog but utterly masterful songwriting and arrangement, let down by one major turkey of a song and a few flaws in some of the others. These other flaws may safely be considered as the flaws in a diamond, however, and you can always press "stop", or program out the last track...

Certif1ed | 4/5 |


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