Bluebell Wood

Big Sleep

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Bluebell Wood Review

by Jo-Ann Greene

Neither their 1968 debut Crossroads of Time nor their proggier, Quincy Jones produced follow-up In Fields of Ardath brought the commercial success Eyes of Blue so sought. Although the Welsh quintet were losing hope, their label head and manager Lou Reizener wasn't throwing in the towel yet. In his view, only a new moniker stood in the way of stardom; thus Eyes were renamed Big Sleep and set to work on their third and final album, 1971's Bluebell Wood.

Even in a time of feverish experimentation, the group had an incredibly unique hybrid sound that seamlessly stitched together pop elements, classical, R&B and blues, psychedelia and rock with incredibly tight and egalitarian arrangements. That latter was important, as every bandmember was a virtuoso, and thus each deserved the space to shine. Unusually, the group boasted two keyboardists, but forget comparisons to the likes of ELP, as Big Sleep's numbers often counterpointed lavish organ passages with R&B styled piano or electric keyboard, underpinning their numbers with a jazzy or bluesy aura. Acoustic guitars further enhanced the rich atmospheres, and usually followed the organ's lead. The electric guitars arrived well into the pieces, a further musical counterpoint that accentuated psychedelic organ passages or pulled the numbers into rock. Although there's an improvisational feel to it all, the songs are, in fact, very tightly structured, including the fiery guitar solos that wind around the keyboards. The band's pop sensibilities are evident too, especially on the catchy chorus of "Aunty James," passages within "Death of a Hope," and particularly on the clap along R&B of "When the Sun Was Out."

However, it was the epic eleven-plus-minute title track that sent prog rock fans wild, a showcase of Big Sleep's many styles and talents. Filled with the kind of dynamics that any modern emo band would die for, quiet passages give way to grand up-tempo segments, downbeat blues shift into raging psychedelia, and strings pile onto ballads before the band breaks into rock and the splendid vocals fill the air: Bluebell Wood had it all. Yet the album still failed to excite the masses. The band never even took the stage under their Big Sleep name, and folded soon after the set's release. So much talent would eventually find homes elsewhere (notably with Gentle Giant and Man), but it's no wonder the album has been long sought after by collectors. Now remastered and sporting its original artwork, everyone can venture back into this stunning Wood.

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