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Barclay James  Harvest - Octoberon CD (album) cover


Barclay James Harvest


Crossover Prog

3.76 | 217 ratings

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4 stars Octoberon is BJH's last contender for the accolade of Prog masterpiece but neither is it flawless nor wall-to-wall Prog. Not a Prog masterpiece then, but nevertheless a classic in other repects, one of the best in a long career. While containing similarities to its predecessor, this self-produced album has much greater depth. Songs are given space to breathe and allowed to develop organically to a natural conclusion, though a little self-restraint may have been beneficial to a couple.

As always it contains some simpler songs, yet Octoberon is a welcome return to earlier values for a band which once was able to construct such mini-epics as Mocking Bird and She Said. Woolly's Ra stands head-and-shoulders above all else in this respect, a towering giant of a song that could just be the best he has ever written! Opening with an introductory theme that builds to an early crescendo, it soon settles into an eerie atmospheric piece with lovely tones of Hammond and spacey guitar effects, briefly interrupted by a short mid-song solo from John. The coda launches into a reprise of the opening theme, building to a stunning climactic finale.

The other obvious talking point is John's infamous Suicide?, basically a story-board song asking "did he jump, or was he pushed?" though I am not what sentiment he was trying to convey. It is a slow sprawling ballad, developing from a sparsely arranged first verse to a dramatic full-band final verse, interspersed with soaring guitar interludes. The long coda has an almost ambient rendition of the melody as a backdrop to a re-enactment of the song's story [by Woolly - except for the last bit!].

May Day, another lengthy song from John with lyrics that can be read on a politcal or personal level, has several twists before entering a strange coda where a 'choir' sings excerpts of six songs simultaneously. Interesting idea but it needed a good pruning. The remaining songs are all very high quality examples of the simpler songs that have always been a part of BJH's make-up, accompanied by inventive and busy arrangements, awash with myriad small details that lift them way above the ordinary. My favourite is John's Polk St Rag, an energetic rocker blessed with x-rated lyrics, though it really needs a harder production to emphasize the song's power, but the crowd's favourite would be Rock N Roll star, an above average pop-rocker from Les.

Octoberon is all about camaraderie backed by solid musicianship, a band at the peak of its creativity, its members pulling in [more or less] the same direction, its songs all contributing to a cohesive identity. It is music that touches the heart as much as the head, a journey of warmth and emotion, of sheer pleasure and, ultimately, peace. Anywhere else it would be a masterpiece .....

Joolz | 4/5 |


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