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Various Artists (Label Samplers) - A Breath Of Fresh Air: A Harvest Records Anthology/ 1969-1974 CD (album) cover


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Dick Heath
Jazz-Rock Specialist
4 stars At last Harvest Records & EMI have realised competitive records labels have already issued some excellent compilations from their vaults, covering music from 1965 to 1974, and done something about it. As a further compliment to those other 5 separated 3 CD boxsets (issued by Decca, Island, Castle, Vertigo, Liberty-UA), each having good to excellent liner notes, here Harvest's. Minor moan: like EMI's Liberty/UA issue again the parent company haven't stretched to a nice cardboard box, instead serving this up in a horrible polystyrene compact snap-box - but I'll forgive them as the box holds many musical pleasure and memories, plus a few new ones to me. BTW Harvest issued a 4 CD box set 'Harvest Festival' covering much more of its history with a book(let), less than 10 years at the 40 quid plus price. In addition Harvest issued a double LP set similar titled 'Picnic: A Breath Of Fresh Air', 37 years ago (i.e. approximately 3 years after the founding of the label) - very few of the tracks found on that album are featured here.

I've thought hard and I can't think that any Harvest signings from the first 5 years of the label's existence have been omitted.Therefore we are presented with a variety of musical styles which happily fell under the joint headings of underground/progessive music circa 1970 -however, now and only with a lot of wangling would all slot under a bloated definition of 'progressive rock'. Hence some excellent folk from the Collins sisters, Michael Chapman and Roy Harper. Proto-gothic/agiprop pops up several times from Edgar Broughton - but I'm not sure of the choice of Broughton's 'Evil' to open the whole - there are better tunes on 'Wasa Wasa'. The avant blues rock of Pete Brown (Jack Bruce's lyricist) comes up several times. The blossoming heavy rock of Deep Purple or Quatermass. The beautiful weirdness of The Third Ear Band, Ron Geesin, Kevin Ayers, (a personal hurray for the inclusion of 'Song From The Bottom Of A Well'), and Syd Barrett at the edge of mental collapse. However, we are happily given the full whack of Babe Ruth's Tamla inspired 'Wells Fargo', with the faux Junior Wells sax break. There is Roy Wood's ELO, before they they became Mr Lynn's -and to remind of where ELO came from there is the Move. And I'm thinking: is that Jan Akkermann track with Pete Banks? And then you'll find a few bands the bands time almost forgot -e.g. Forest, Spontaneous Combustion, Bombadil (hey I have this track as a single!). The choice of Floyd is good - for me. And then there is Marc Almond!

This is as good but no better than any one of the excellent 5 compilations from the period already mentioned above and listed in the archives.

May I suggest if the pennies stretch: buy all 6 sets, with the 18 CDs in total, covering a very very good cross section of British rock music in its development and blossoming,and get a real bargain at less than a 100 quid - while the duplication across the sets is almost zero.

Report this review (#123479)
Posted Saturday, May 26, 2007 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars I guess the previous three-discs early 70's prog label anthologies (Islands, Decca, Vertigo) sold well enough to encourage others to try out their luck. Actually the Island anthology made babies, since there is a green boxset concentrating on folk, and a yellow boxset concentrating on reggae. But up to now, all of these attractive anthologies came in cardboard clamshells with the discs coming in mini-Lp sleeves and this made comfortable and easy to use in case of travelling. But EMI decided not to use or imitate Universal, and chose to around with their own system. Soooo instead of these cardboard clamshells, we have this ugly fatboy double jewel case with these discs never holding in place, just when you thought you'd finally be rid of them fatboys. As it turns out EMI is not a quick learner since it repeated this huge mistake with the upcoming Charisma label, but let's look beyond the "attractive package", now. With an artwork playing alternative cover to an old sampler called Picnic ? Breath Of Fresh Air being used as artwork? it is also a bit of a departure since it is the first time the then-actual label logo is not being featured on the cover. No idea why too, because the yellow-and-green Ying logo is rather cool.

Harvest includes two of the highest selling-groups to come from the late-60's the Purple/pink Deep Floyd and of course they will be featured, but not abused. The first disc is out on a bad start with one of the crummiest E Broughton Band track, but the rest of the discs is more digestible, with some delightful Battered Ornaments, Piblokto (both with Pete Brown singing), Third Ear or even Bombadil, the later having recorded only one single. Of course every label has its share of misses and here Panama Limited is embarrassingly bad, other artistes are a bit out of the scope of the label, thus creating some considerable sonic diversity, sometimes a bit uncomfortable for the ears. Whenever possible, the track version chosen is a different one from the albums; and comes either from another compilation or a non-album single.

This three-disc boxset is not ant better or worse than the previous ones in terms on contents, but the package (the fatboy double JC) it comes in is certainly unworthy of the label's heritage. But then again, this is the third compilation of the label after the single disc Showdown and the full-size 5-disc boxset of 99. Your choice on this one.

Report this review (#248072)
Posted Wednesday, November 4, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars This 3-CD set is not a prog rock compilation per se; it collects, as the title says, material from the HARVEST label - which however was pretty much concentrating on prog. But all represented artists really can't be regarded as prog artists, even if almost all are at least CLOSE to the genre. The most stand-out prog artists here are PINK FLOYD obviously (including also Syd Barrett and Roger Waters solos), BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST, KEVIN AYERS, JAN AKKERMAN (of Focus), QUATERMASS, BABE RUTH, E.L.O., and of course DEEP PURPLE if one wants to see it as a prog band. Also among major/ long-time artists are ROY HARPER, MICHAEL CHAPMAN and SHIRLEY COLLINS. Several artists have multiple tracks, for example EDGAR BROUGHTON BAND has four tracks.

Naturally there are many rare short-lived acts too, which always are the spice of these compilations for a prog connoisseur. Band infos are kept short but informative. Musically this set is very uneven for any individual taste, but that's inevitable. How well the tracks from each artists are chosen is not easy to estimate if one doesn't know their output already. I'm quite happy with the selections of Floyd, BJH and Harper for example.

There were some artists I didn't enjoy for any of the chosen tracks (such as THIRD EAR BAND). I don't know the HARVEST legacy very thoroughly, but I'd suppose there would have been more interesting material to replace some tracks by those with several ones, in order to give even wider picture. But this is an educative and interesting compilation all the same.

Report this review (#323429)
Posted Wednesday, November 17, 2010 | Review Permalink

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