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Barclay James  Harvest - Baby James Harvest CD (album) cover

BABY JAMES HARVEST

Barclay James Harvest

 

Crossover Prog

3.00 | 137 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars 'Baby James Harvest' is certainly not one of the more well-remembered BJH albums as far as the music press and most fans are concerned, but I personally find it to be among their more charming and intimate efforts, despite its disjointed feel and lack of any huge classics (save possibly "Summer Soldier", one of the better anti-war songs of those days).

The band were literally split up at the time, but not due to infighting or contractual issues. Rather, Wooly Wolstenholme was ensconced at Abbey Road Studios with the band's orchestra working on "Moonwater" while the rest of the group were settled in at Strawberry Studios putting together the nucleus of the album. As the band tells the story on their website, Wolstenholme laid down the orchestral backing tracks and delivered the master tapes to Strawberry for the final recordings and production, but the tapes wouldn't work on the Strawberry equipment so he had to return to Abbey Road and rework them while the rest of the group went ahead with the a-side of the album as well as Les Holroyd's spaceman epic "One Hundred Thousand Smiles Out". As a result Wolstenholme played little part on most of the record other than "Moonwater", with Holroyd providing most of the keyboard tracks on "Crazy (Over You)" and "One Hundred Thousand Smiles Out".

The song selection and themes are as varied here as they were on 'BKH and Other Short Stories', but at least this time the lyrics were for the most part a bit less esoteric than on the prior album and therefore more likely to appeal to someone besides just the band members themselves. The one exception is "Thank You", which is nothing more than a name-dropping rendition of the 'thanks to' blurb that seems to always follow the liner notes on most albums. Lees manages to squeeze in thanks for everyone from the band members' significant others to part of their road crew to record executives and even the members of 10cc.

For the first time the band opens with a Holroyd tune ("Crazy (Over You)"), and one that reminds me quite a bit of many early Supertramp songs, especially ones written by Rick Davies. The most noticeable difference here is the lack of orchestration which is supplanted by a bit of Mellotron and organ and an excellent John Lees guitar riff.

"Delph Town Morn" continues the trend of change on the album with a brass ensemble instead of orchestral strings, and I have to say the blend of horns and sax with some acoustic guitar and Lees' voice make for a pleasant effect, although once again this sounds a bit more like Supertramp than it does Barclay James Harvest. The theme, as is often the case with Lees songs, is a bird, in this case a steel one (aka an airplane) as near as I can tell. The piano-driven transition midway through is exquisite and again very Hodgson-like; I'm not sure if this was Holroyd or Wolstenholme but I quite like it. The extended sax solo that takes up the rest of the song is among the more engaging and lively I've heard from that era.

The album is dominated by the ten-minute "Summer Soldier", an anti-war song that opens with the sound of marching soldiers and fighter craft strafing before settling into gorgeous guitar strumming and rolling drums behind Lees' exhortation to peace and understanding. Sappy today perhaps, but the sentiments of self-examination and compassion for the personal and human side of 'the enemy' rings true and sincere here and is one that we could certainly use more of today. Great guitar work once again by Lees along with Holroyd's (acoustic?) rhythm, and the heavy use of organ and Mellotron help fill in for the lack of orchestral accompaniment one would have normally expected from a BJH album.

"One Hundred Thousand Smiles Out" is a Barclay James Harvest attempt at a space- themed song, something quite topical at the time considering the Soviet/U.S. space-race had only resulting in landing a man on the moon a few years before this was recorded. I have to say the arrangement reminds me a lot of the first two Klaatu albums, and while I never considered there might have been a BJH influence on that band I have to wonder hearing this today if that in fact was the case.

Meanwhile, back at Abbey Road Wolstenholme was wrapping up his main contribution to the album, the majestic, heavily orchestral and blatantly progressive "Moonwater". With its swirling crescendos and lush strings (not to mention a strong presence of horns and woodwinds) and decidedly classical arrangement, I could have been easily convinced Robert John Godfrey conducted rather than Martyn Ford, and would not consider this song out-of-place on any of a number of the Enid albums. Well-done and a great closer to a pretty decent album.

So the band's fans and music press were divided on this album when it released, and it would eventually be overshadowed by their first two and a couple later such as 'Octoberon', 'Gone to Earth' and 'Time Honoured Ghosts'. But I find it to be a very well executed recording with solid compositions, with the possible exception of the gratuitous "Thank You". Considered on its own merits and not be comparing it with other BJH albums I have to say it would make an excellent addition to just about any progressive music fan's collection, and therefore rate it a four (of five) star effort and recommend it highly.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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