Kevin Ayers

The Harvest Years 1969-1974

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The Soft Machine, not long after recording their first album and touring America, began breaking up -- just the first in a long series of personnel changes and subsequent new directions that formed one of art rock's winding sagas of the '70s. Kevin Ayers was the first to leave, mostly because of that American tour, and he soon became one of the first acts to release music on Harvest, a new progressive label from EMI that promised to offer the best and brightest in the new vanguard of British rock. Ayers recorded and released five albums over the next five years, all of which appear on separate discs of The Harvest Years 1969-1974, and each of which comes with bonus tracks (most of them entertaining BBC sessions). Ayers was quite the chameleon during this time, beginning with a set of psychedelic-pop whimsy akin to Syd Barrett (Joy of a Toy) but soon detouring into free-form epic prog (Shooting at the Moon, with young hotshot guitarist Mike Oldfield), and later arriving at a surprisingly straight-ahead vision of bluesy pop (Bananamour). The set offers the albums in the best sound they've ever been heard, and the bonus tracks are excellent as well. The unavoidable caveat comes, though. Why not include all the bonus tracks from previous editions, especially when they include a track actually recorded with Syd Barrett? (That would be "Religious Experience (Singing a Song in the Morning)," available on the 2003 Joy of a Toy reissue.) Quibbles aside, this is a hugely entertaining set from one of art rock's most beguiling figures.

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