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National Health - National Health CD (album) cover


National Health


Canterbury Scene

4.12 | 383 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

I bet more than one expecting fans got surprised by this release, promised for two years and never getting close to studios and shop. Indeed quite a lot of water went under the bridge from the formation of NH in late 75 as a sextet. With Bruford now gone and Campbell discouraged, both replaced, the two Gilgamesh members Gowan and Lee were also history, although the former is a guest on all tracks. Among the other guest are the frequent blows of Brother Jimmy Hastings, the percussions of John Mitchell and the vocals of ex-Northette Amanda Parsons. The latter is unfortunately the main flaw of this album (IMHO), because I find her voice particularly irksome especially in the aerial wordless scats that abound in the album. Coming with a typical semi-humoristic late 70's-type of artwork depicting UK healthcare problems, the album holds four tracks over 10 mins+, even if Borogroves is divided in two movements, thus making indeed a fifth one.

Opening o the promising Tenemos Road, the group's musical world clearly takes from where Hatfield (and Gilgamesh to a lesser extent) had left things off and everything is quite excellent until Parsons' voice enters for thankfully-short interventions, but the track jumps hurdles effortlessly and gets back to typical Canterbury soundscapes. The following Brujos starts poorly at first (IMHO) and very slowly, Hastings' delightful flute trading licks with Parsons' almost Chinese-timbred voice, the track slowly gaining momentum until reaching an excellent funk groove where the two keyboards feud with the then-ala mode synth tones that haven't aged that well, until Stewart returns to the fuzzed-out Hammond then Miller's surprisingly (and short) heroic intervention. Then slowing down and returning on Parsons scats and a short rebuff to end the first side.

The flipside starts on the first part of Borogroves, which is part of the original second movement, while the second part was originally the first part?.. you following me?? Doesn't matter I'm not either ;o))), the first (or second, depending) movement is mostly an excuse for an excellent bass movement from Neil Murray where the rest of the band can show their chops. The closing monster track Elephants has some incredibly intense moments, but in general it follows the colour of the rest of the album, first with an ascending riff, then a funky groove and then a haunting piano riff that allows the group to strut their stuff without showing off, before Parsons returning with sung but unintelligible (and irritable) vocals. Elephants is a Gowan piece that he would eventually take with him in Soft Heap

While it was rather clear that this kind of ultra-technical jazz-rock's heydays were long past, NH's debut is still very much an excellent example of the genre, despite the irritating Par(kin)sons vocal effects. Definitely not a flawless albums and certainly no better than the two Hatfield albums despite increased individual virtuoso qualities, NH's debut is the first album of Canterbury's last legendary group (at least of the 70's).

Sean Trane | 3/5 |


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