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Barclay James  Harvest - Ring Of Changes CD (album) cover


Barclay James Harvest


Crossover Prog

2.68 | 78 ratings

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3 stars Recorded at Far Studios in Germany [home of Boney M svengali Frank Farian] Ring Of Changes sees the debut of Bias Boshell's rich layered keyboards and the first of two albums produced by Pip Williams, both of which are felt by most BJH fans to be uncharacteristic and poor though Ring Of Changes has hidden fires that lift it well above the baseline. Sadly, the production is smooth and detailed but exceedingly lightweight - fine for those dense keyboards and abundant lush multi-part harmonies but totally inadequate for up-tempo rocking numbers.

As always, songwriting is divided between John and Les with John's being overall the strongest, though neither have excelled themselves in choice of subject matter. A few love songs sit amongst more interesting topics but none are particularly hard-hitting. John's concerns are direct and personal: Paraiso Dos Cavalos is a story of a family holiday in the Algarve, nicely arranged in a very Moody Blues sort of way with orchestral instruments adding to the atmosphere; the excellent opener Fifties Child deals with lost innocence and ideals of the 50s generation, beginning with a lovely string quartet leading to full orchestra intro before the band joins in; most diverting is John's reflective Midnight Drug, supported by an understated chugging rhythm guitar pattern, an open letter to a friend who has lost his way, contrasting John's own life "Spending my days making natural highs" to the other's "Pouring your life in a glass of ice".

Les's tour de force is the wonderful title track Ring Of Changes which closes the album. Musically it is composed almost entirely of synths and drums, without a guitar in sight, but the arrangement is dynamic, beginning by tapping out 'ring of changes' in Morse code then building through each phase to a big uplifting everybody-join-in chorus. It also cleverly illustrates the theme of cyclical change ["The wheels keep on turning / Turning circles we go round again"] by subtle use of repeating motifs.

Of the remainder, all of which are love songs, Les's three are disposable: synth driven Looking From The Outside is merely a pleasant pop tune, the rockier High Wire is let down by lack of production oomph and over-repetition of the chorus, while Waiting For The Right Time is another generic slow ballad with masses of soft string pads. John's are a little more memorable: Teenage Heart has a lovely lilt with one of those hummable tunes that get into the brain and stay there, while Just A Day Away is lively and tuneful in a foot tapping sort of way like country-rock.

Holroyd and Lees always had their own individual songwriting styles but the practicalities of working as a band gave them a common identity. Ring Of Changes was the first album to suffer from a clear divergence, not only in songwriting and singing styles, but in working practices and approach to instrumentation, something that was to blight several later albums and became a root cause of their ultimate split in 1997. Here, John's songs are mostly driven by guitars, including the welcome sound of acoustic instruments on several, while Boshell's influence is most keenly felt on Les's songs, some of which contain little or no hint of any kind of input from John.

Overall, while falling far short of their best, and containing no Prog moments, Ring Of Changes is a darn good album of soft-rock AOR. Despite an over-reliance on cheesy 80s new-agey synth arrangements on several songs, there are enough good songs to make the album very enjoyable.

Joolz | 3/5 |


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