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Barclay James  Harvest - Octoberon CD (album) cover


Barclay James Harvest


Crossover Prog

3.76 | 217 ratings

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Prog-Folk Team
5 stars Combining the extended and more symphonic format of "Once Again" with the consistency and accessibility of "Everyone is Everybody Else", BJH produced what was arguably their best album in the mystical "Octoberon". It was also their best produced album up to that time, with the cleanest sound in which all instruments and vocals can be discerned as part of a concerted whole. It is hard to mount more than a minor criticism of any aspect of this brilliantly constructed and emotional album. My review is based on the original LP.

From the opening notes of "The World Goes On", we sense a change in attitude. Lengthy and essentially simple, it is not boring at all, and stands as one of Holroyd's best efforts as both singer and songwriter. The orchestration returns like a mature old friend, adding an elegant touch without smothering the song, which had previously been a bit of an issue for the band. The next two tracks are the best on the album; "Mayday" is both lyrically and musically stunning, even without choral section that serves as its epilog. While the "song" part owes to John Lees in every respect, Woolly Wolstenholme is the genius behind the miraculous crescendo, in which segments of a number of well known traditional and classical songs are sung at the same time. Its ending leaves one breathless, and luckily "Ra" starts ignominiously. This is Woolly's track all the way - almost entirely instrumental, it uses synthesizers, bass, a minimalist lead guitar "chorus", and a nailbiting buildup to start and end the proceedings. "Ra" easily ranks as one of Woolly's best pieces.

"Rock'n Roll Star", like some earlier material, pays homage to the Byrds in title and inspiration, and also borrows liberally from the Eagles, but in the end sounds so much spacier than either of those bands could ever conceive. The mellotron sparkles around Holroyd's description of the ups and downs of the rock star life, and turns the experience into something far more philosophical and cosmic than drunken and drug riddled, although it is perhaps all of these. "Polk Street Rag" would be just a typical John Lees hard rock misstep on any other album but it actually fits in here, thanks to its gritty simplistic delivery. "Believe in Me" showcases the band's fine harmonies enhanced by Woolly's shimmering mellotron and a few well placed rhythm guitar riffs. It could be argued that BJH would be nothing without the tron but this song is impactful both before and after the mini orchestra kicks in. Finally, "Suicide?" describes the sad plight of a poor loser before he jumps, or is pushed, off the balcony of his club. If he is pushed, is it a real push or a symbolic one? After the heavenly melody fades out, we are subject to a re-enactment of the events in non-musical, non verbal form. It's a bit of a novelty that does not wear particularly well after a few listens, but the innovation in its presentation in a rock format is undeniable.

"Octoberon" set the stage for the major, if localized, commercial harvest that was to follow shortly thereafter, and remains the most consistently brilliant album in the BJH canon.

kenethlevine | 5/5 |


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