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Barclay James  Harvest - Caught In The Light CD (album) cover

CAUGHT IN THE LIGHT

Barclay James Harvest

 

Crossover Prog

2.57 | 73 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
2 stars Anyone else feel a chill in the air?

This may be the most sterile Barclay James Harvest album of all, coming at the (bitter) end of a long, up-and-down career that seemed to have been down more than up after 1979. I've never been able to figure out if BJH were caught in a strategic struggle over how to navigate the waters between popular culture and record label pressures while still remaining artistically relevant; or if they never got over the departure of keyboardist Woolly Wolstenholme; or (most likely), a little of both.

Clearly the relationship between John Lees and Les Holroyd had been deteriorating for quite some time. Both had long been in the habit of writing their own songs separately then coming to the studio to sort out what would make it on a record and how that would sound. But by this point the two were not only writing separately, according to several reports of the period they also tended to go into the studio individually and lay down their respective tracks. Of course technology had advanced to the point where this was easily possible and bands do this today all the time due to personal preference, available studio time and engineers, touring schedules and the like; but in this case one can almost picture Lees and Holroyd passing each other in the corridor of Friarmere Studios like Sam and Ralph, the sheepdogs of Warner Brother's Roadrunner cartoon fame, one punching out on the time clock while the other punched in for his shift. Maybe it's just me but there is a pervasive sense of drudgery on this album despite the lively opening Holroyd song 'Who Do We Think We Are?'

And speaking of that song, the chord progression that launches it is lively and promising, but like most of the rest of the tracks the lyrics are sub-par for a BJH album and Holroyd fails to capitalize on an opportunity for a stellar single in my opinion. The song, like most of the album, suffers from needless repetition and serves as an antithesis to what progressive music is supposed to be about.

I'm sure the sequencing of the album was intentional with Holroyd and Lees songs alternating throughout which ensured both could claim equal shares of any royalties, but this also resulted in a record that sounds more like a loose collection of tunes rather than a cohesive body of work.

John Lees' songs in particular seem lackluster and almost whiny, especially 'Knoydart' and the aimlessly wandering 'Once More' with its slightly sad and nostalgic nod to the past in the synthesized strings woven almost haphazardly throughout the lulls of the tune. This mood carries over the his closing track 'Ballad of Denshaw Mill' as well, which is really a pretty decent tune that recalls a time when the band had a habit of closing with lengthy, majestic numbers full of classically-oriented compositions often based on English folklore. That applies with this song too, but given the overall mood of the album it's hard to get too excited about it. Lees originally tried to squeeze this one in on the 'Ring of Changes' album but the band declined to include it then.

Holroyd's songs aren't a heck of a lot better, but he does manage to lose the race to the bottom with Lees and so deserves at least a nod for that. 'Cold War' offers decent vocal harmonies and both 'Copii Romania' and 'A Matter of Time' fit the BJH mold of their later work with moments of brightness and melodic charm, but mostly only by comparison to the waning contributions by Lees.

All things must come to an end, and with Barclay James Harvest the end was clearly in sight by the time they recorded this album. They would manage one more before Lees and Holroyd went their separate ways for good, but by this time in their career the band was issuing far more compilations, anthologies, retrospectives and drudged up old live material than they were anything new, which is always a sign that the creative juices, or at least the band's cohesion, is dying. I can't say this is anything more than a collector's piece for loyal fans, and can't recommend it to anyone trying to get into the band today. Two stars and not recommended.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 2/5 |

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