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Barclay James  Harvest - John Lees' Barclay James Harvest: North CD (album) cover


Barclay James Harvest


Crossover Prog

3.07 | 55 ratings

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3 stars After a period of mourning the tragic loss of Woolly Wolstenholme, a founding member of the original BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST, the John Lees faction decided to soldier on, and "North" is the first progeny of that resilient group, to which long time BJH fan Jez Smith was added on keyboards. It is in fact the first disk of entirely new material under the BJH name since the late 1990s split.

First of all, the mere title of the album speaks volumes, alluding to the pastoral Oldham origins of the group, which somehow adhered to the mellotron soaked sound like chocolate to almonds. What's enlightening to me is how, for the first time, if only at times, BJH sounds closer to a low voltage kiltless version of a few Scottish acts I could name, as they draw more than usual, which is to say, more than not at all, from the traditions of their surroundings. As such, it's difficult to compare this disk to any other era of the group, as it represents a bold renaissance of their identity, that, while not always captivating, is commendable in anyone past middle age.

Of note, Lees' vocals remain readily identifiable and effective within a wisely preset narrow range, and bassist Craig Fletcher sings on several tracks for variety, his voice more suited to conventional rock. Lees' guitar has mellowed, opting for melodic phrasings a la MARK KNOPFLER. Jez Smith shines particularly on piano on several tracks but also on organ and of course mellotron, though its use does not approach that triple washed sheen of early BJH albums, nor does it attempt to. A luxuriant breath of styles is afforded, including epics, basic blues, jazz rock, romantic ballad, and even an ambient brass song. From the perspective of most prog listeners, the lengthiest tracks will offer the best mileage, the best of these being "On Leave", a tribute to Wolstenholme, which is as intricate a composition and arrangement as anything the band has done in any era. Of special note is a frantic call and response midsection that acquiesces to their departed friend's confusions, standing with him without judgement, as true friends.

Even the more conventional tracks often yield unexpected pleasures. The STEELY DAN influenced "In Wonderland" includes a symphonic break that STEELY could not have conceived. "Unreservedly Yours" reminds me of GORDON LIGHTFOOT, but with a simple lilting chorus that delights. "On Top of the World" reaps glory out of its initial lassitude.

While BJH will probably never glisten again like they did in the glory years, "North" succeeds because it sets its internal compass onward and upward, respecting the past but refusing to be haunted by it.

kenethlevine | 3/5 |


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