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John Lee’s Barclay James Harvest

The 50th Anniversary Concert

Review by Gary Hill

It seems that as the decades tick away in the history of the bands we know and love that the story becomes ever more common. Two (or more) versions of the core band wind up out doing the music of the group. John Lee's Barclay James Harvest is one such outfit, and their version of the music of Barclay James Harvest is captured quite well in this new set. It's a two CD live album with a third disc that's a DVD of the show. If you like folk prog styled sounds, you will love this. The audio and video quality are both quite good, and the performances are strong.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
CD One
              
Mr. Sunshine

The percussion is the first thing we hear, but the folk prog arrangement fills out quickly. The vocals follow in short order. This is a melodic and classy number that works very well. The flute solo section adds something special to the piece. There is a real 1960s folk rock meets psychedelia element on display here.

Child of the Universe
Electric guitar brings this in with a real contrast to the previous number. The piece drops down to a more melodic folk prog jam from there. They continue forward in fine fashion. The synthesizer climbs far up in the mix at times. I like the changes and shifts and on this number. The harder rocking stuff later is so classy. There is some intricate and rather soaring guitar work further down the musical road.
She Said
There is a bluesy edge as this comes in, but the keyboards and other elements land it more in the prog vein. This is a powerful number that is quite effective. The jam around the minute and a half mark has some particularly expressive guitar work. There are definitely space rock elements built into this thing. It drops to a keyboard only section around the half way mark. Then flute rises up to bring a different texture to the piece. This has a real grounding effect. As it builds back outward it turns toward a rather jazzy, echoey kind of soundscape. The guitar solos over the top of that in powerful ways. They work back out to the song proper from there.
Paraiso Do Cavalos / Sideshow
Mellower keyboard driven sounds open this number and build it upward. As the vocals enter the track shifts to more of a pleasant folk prog arrangement. That sort of arrangement holds the track for the first half of the two-fer. The number works out to more of a rocker from there. Some symphonic prog textures are still a big part of the arrangement, though. This has a lot more of a mainstream rock basis at its core. To some degree comparisons to Pink Floyd aren't out of the question here.
The Iron Maiden
There is a real symphonic, classical element to this track. It's set in a mellower and quite sedate balladic approach as it works outward. That concept makes up the soul and character of this effective piece.
In My Life
In stark contrast, this powers in with a hard rocking classic prog texture as guitars and synth paint the picture. This rocker has some killer guitar lines and a great bass groove as it continues. There are some cool classic old school rock trappings built into this quick tempo number. It also has dramatic prog changes. The dropped back movement is classy.
North
This is another that lands closer to the vein of mainstream rocker at times. That said, there are plenty of pure progressive rock tendencies here. I like the balance between mellower and more rocking stuff.  The vocal hooks on this are quite effective. There is a long spoken introduction to the next track at the end of this one.
In Memory of the Martyrs
This starts quite Celtic and grows outward into a mellow jam that has folk prog, psychedelia and even some space rock built into it.
The Acoustic Medley
This medley is an epic piece weighing in at over 12 minutes of music. It starts with a cool folk prog styled piece that bears the title "Delph Town Mom." It has some soaring elements and works well. The next tune visited here is "One Night." There is more of a rocking vibe to that portion of this medley. It has some great vocal hooks. They follow that with "Mr. E." The change to that piece is rather abrupt with some cool acoustic guitar soloing taking it. They launch into another fast paced rocker as they get into the song proper. I dig the piano on that part of this suite. "Guitar Blues" follows with a mellow, but still energetic approach. Again the piano shines on that movement. The piano takes control as the other instruments drop away. That instrument guides the group into the next song of the medley, "Just a Day Away." For some reason, that one reminds me a bit of Jimmy Buffett. A Latin horn break section brings a real fun loving element. They close this medley with "Unreservedly Yours." It has a mellow and effective texture. It makes me think of what you might get if Gordon Lightfoot worked with Greg Lake.
River of Dreams
Piano opens this cut and holds it for a time. The vocals join with just that as the backing instrument. In fact, that remains the case throughout the song. This is a mellower piece that's quite evocative. The piano really paints some wonderful melodies as it works its way through, too.
CD Two
            
On Leave

This comes in as a dramatic prog ballad with a lot of emotion and power. The cut grows outward gradually from there. The track works forward in a fairly straight-line way. The keys lend some space rock vibes to it later in the run. It works out to a second half that's faster paced and quickly evolving. It is pure progressive rock. It has some particularly tasty guitar work. It's also a killer jam in so many ways. I love the keyboard solo break.

Taking Some Time On
In a lot of ways this is more straight-ahead bluesy rocker. Sure there are still some prog elements, but if the whole disc were like this it wouldn't land under prog. That said, it's a killer number that works well. I dig the chorus hooks a lot.
Summer Soldier
The opening movement here is a soaring, triumphant sounding prog jam that has a real classic sound to it. It works out after a time to mellower arrangement of guitar with keys soaring over the top. Those keys drop away, leaving a mellower balladic approach for the backdrop to the vocals. The cut continues to evolve. There are some particularly dramatic sections as this keeps working its way forward.
Medicine Man
A hard rocking distorted guitar opens this. As it jams, organ comes in over the top. The piece rises up from there as they work onward. The second half of this cut is occupied by an extensive instrumental movement. Different instruments take command at different points, and it is a real powerhouse. I love the bass solo and the incendiary performance of that instrument after. This is one of my favorites of the whole set based on the power of this instrumental movement.
Mockingbird
Sedate keyboards open this cut and move it forward. It starts to move away from that after one minute mark, but only a little. Vocals come in over the top of the keyboards making me think of the band UK just a bit. The first half of this tune remains in this mellower, rather balladic approach. The cut intensifies and gets faster as it moves forward later along the road. It continues to change and at times reminds me just a bit of King Crimson.
Crazy City
A harder rocking guitar sound starts this, and they take that out into a cool mainstream prog jam from there. There is a vocal workout movement around the half way mark that lends some drama and variety to the cut. This has some really soaring moments, too.
The Poet / After the Day
Coming in mellower and vaguely classical in nature, the keyboards control the opening segment. Vocals come in over the top of that backdrop. This section of the two-fer doesn't work as well as some of the other music here. Around the four and a half minute mark it powers out to a more potent version of the melodies and really drives onward with a rock intensity. Guitar takes it in new directions as it continues. After that movement it eventually makes its way to mellower sounds for a time. It resolves to a segment that has a bit of Beatles vibe as it rises upward from that point. There is some powerhouse bluesy guitar soloing that comes in on the extended outro.
Early Morning
They lead this off with a bit of John Peel introducing the band on their debut on BBC radio. The cut comes in with a mellow sound that's part Moody Blues and part Procol Harum. This has a great folk prog texture and works quite well in this live performance. This is a fairly short piece and a rather consistent one.
Hymn
Acoustic guitar opens this piece. The vocals come in over the top of that arrangement, bringing a rather soaring almost Celtic sound to it. The number grows gradually with more intensity and other instruments being added as they work forward. By around the two minute mark this has become a real rocking number. This gets so powerful as it continues building in intensity. I dig the keyboard melodies on the closing section. This is a great way to end the show in style.
 
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