Barclay James Harvest

The Harvest Years

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This two-CD set is a highly enjoyable and well thought out retrospective on Barclay James Harvest's five-year stay at EMI, initially on Parlophone Records and then on Harvest. Instead of giving us every single and a smattering of LP cuts, the producers have been careful in their choices, leaving in highly relevant B-sides ("The Joker") while ignoring A-sides that lacked a compelling reason for inclusion, and reaching out not only to key album cuts, but into the vaults, so that after the two sides of their debut single, "Early Morning" and the B-side of "Mr. Sunshine" (a pair of folky numbers that attempted to bridge the gap between sunshine pop and psychedelia), we get a trio of more ambitious songs that EMI declined to release in 1968. These are all worth hearing, and superior to a lot of other material that the label did put out that year: "Pools of Blue" (an impression of life from the standpoint of a blind man), "I Can't Go on Without You," and "Eden Unobtainable," the last showing off the denser Mellotron sound that would characterize their subsequent work. "Brother Thrush," their first Harvest single, may surprise listeners with its musical textures, the singing and rhythmic emphasis calling to mind 1968/69 Pink Floyd (albeit in a very light mood); "Poor Wages" is built on a better melody (which, at times, threatens to turn into a prog/folk-rock version of "Hushabye"), and features a highly dramatic vocal performance, supported by a surprisingly elegant arrangement. From there we move on to a mix of LP and single tracks, touching all of the essential bases, filled with surprises -- for a band that later had to live down the reputation of being the "poor man's Moody Blues," BJH sound an awful lot more like the late-era Move or the early Electric Light Orchestra on "Taking Some Time On," apart from the fact that they let it run longer than Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, and company ever would have permitted. And "When the World Was Woken" shows off the most ornate orchestral sound ever to grace a progressive rock single, making ELP's "I Believe in Father Christmas" sound under-produced by comparison. The two-CD set bounces between lushly orchestrated, highly melodic art rock, progressive pop ("Mockingbird"), and hard rock numbers like "Good Love Child," the odd quad mix or two ("Happy Old World," "Ball and Chain") thrown in for good measure, and thus providing an overview that either the longtime fan or the neophyte listener can enjoy. And for the uninitiated, fans of the Move, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues, the Strawbs, et al., will find a lot to love here. Keith Damone's annotation is also nicely thorough and very entertaining.

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