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Barclay James  Harvest - BJH And Other Short Stories CD (album) cover

BJH AND OTHER SHORT STORIES

Barclay James Harvest

 

Crossover Prog

3.21 | 91 ratings

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Joolz
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars July 1971 and BJH once more headed off to Abbey Road to record a follow-up to the acclaimed Once Again. Ex-Pretty Things bassist Wally Allen was now in the producer's chair [Norman Smith was theoretically 'executive' producer but played no practical role], which may account for a noticeable improvement in sound quality to a richer, warmer sound more sympathetic to BJH material. The BJH Orchestra was still on the go, though Martyn Ford had now replaced Robert Godfrey as 'musical arranger' and head of the orchestra which played a significant role on this album, integrated far more successfully than previously.

Despite the portents, Other Short Stories was a bit of a botched job, completed in a hurry between tours because EMI wished to capitalise on the success of Once Again. As a result, the album is perhaps not as gutsy as it might have been, and some parts were released in an unfinished state [eg Harry's Song should have had additional piano, guitar and backing vocals which simply did not get recorded]. The abiding feel is 'mellow' and 'laid-back' - acoustic guitars [inc lots of 12-string] abound on mid-paced ballads with understated keyboard work and undemanding orchestration.

The best is concentrated at the ends. Medicine Man opens the album, a classic song from John inspired by a Ray Bradbury novel, in an arrangement unloved by the band who proceeded to re-record it for a single B-side. Live [see the 1974 album 'Live'] Medicine Man became a stunning rocker based on pulsating bass lines and lengthy jamming from John and Woolly. Here, it is as different as it can be - a spooky orchestral arrangement which breaks into a lilting rhythm after the end of the vocal. The album ends with one of the best pieces BJH ever created - a twinned pairing of orchestrated The Poet with a quintessential BJH anthem, the apocalyptic but all too short After The Day led by majestic lead guitar phrases [and a genuine solo] and Mellotron.

The dynamic Someone There You Know [Woolly really spits the words "I know what it feels to be alone"] and a wistful Ursula (The Swansea Song) are typical Woolly songs about a lost love; the unlikely inspiration for Harry's Song was the death of a pet [a parrot]; Little Lapwing and Song With No Meaning are typical Les songs, full of soft pads and lush harmonies, and with most of the non-orchestral instruments played by Les; John's sad comment on the music business, Blue John's Blues, could have been a Prog blazer, with several distinct sections, including a Beatles pastiche and some nice ensemble playing but sounds unfinished [eg no harmonies].

Personally, I have always had a soft spot for this album. There are no bad songs, even the 'average' ones are well written, impeccably performed and have their own charm. As a whole their arrangements are not quite strong enough, often drifting along in a dreamy mood when a guitar solo or phrase might have provided a welcome lift. This lack of drive is its principle failing, yet it also provides its essential character, quite distinct in the BJH discography, and quite beguiling if the listener is in a receptive frame of mind.

In summary, a 'good' album for lovers of melodic Prog lifted a point to 'excellent' by the presence of Medicine Man and The Poet / After The Day. The 2002 re-mastered release contains 6 bonus tracks, amongst which are BBC session recordings of three tracks from this album which offer some insight into how they developed, especially Medicine Man.

Joolz | 4/5 |

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