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A welcome return from Woolly Wolstenholme,
This review is from: Nexus (Audio CD)
The original Barclay James Harvest more or less fell apart in 1997 and two years later John Lees teamed up with original member Woolly Wolstenholme, who had left the band in 1979, to work on his "barclay james harvest Through the Eyes of John Lees" project. Subsequently the band has renamed itself "John Lees's Barclay James Harvest".
"Nexus", the band's first and, so far, only studio album marked the welcome return to the music business of Woolly, who had spent nearly 20 years farming following the break-up of his original Maestoso project in 1980.
John's recruitment of Woolly sent out a message to all BJH fans that the music would be returning to the values the band held in the 70s, as opposed to following the European led commercialist adventure of their 80s period. The album sold well, much better than the original band's final album, "River of Dreams" (which, in actual fact, was very good!).
It's a very good, though not excellent album. For me, it is let down by three things: (1) the production sounds a bit muffled; (2) the tempo is very slow - BJH have never been a high-tempo band but these songs are even slower and this affects in particular the "revisited" songs that one is used to listening at a higher tempo; (3) the "revisited" songs don't always work and the mix of old and new doesn't quite work.
What are these "revisits"? The record company wanted the band to include re-recorded versions of some old BJH classics, not only to boost sales perhaps but also so they could have the rights over the songs.
The "revisited" songs are: "The Iron Maiden", "Mockingbird", "Hymn", "titles" and "Loving Is Easy".
"Mockingbird" and "Hymn" in particular don't wear the new versions well - the problem for me is that these songs were so good in the first place that it is difficult to improve on them - I would have preferred some new songs. "Mockingbird" does get a new "introduction" called "Hors d'Oeuvre" but it fails to lift the song really.
The best "revisited" songs are "Titles", where john Lees adds an extra verse to significantly enhance the song (despite this I still prefer Elliot Mazer's production from Time Honoured Ghosts) and "Loving Is Easy", which gets a totally different (bluesier) feel.
However, it's the new songs that make this the very good album that it is. Nothing here from Les Holroyd's pen of course - he was later to go on and form his BJH Featuring Les Holroyd project - but the combination of John Lees and Woolly Wolstenholme writing again together does not disappoint. Interestingly, all of the new songs are credited to Lees/Wolstenholme - a way of John admitting how much Woolly was missed by him in the original band. Other than the opener though, it is clear who had the lead in the song-writing.
"Festival!" is a bruiser of an opening number, a fine mish-mash of sounds that reminds one of their adventurous Harvest years.
Of Woolly's lead songs, only "Sitting Upon a Shelf" disappoints slightly: "The Devils That I Keep" and "Float", a dreamy mellotron based piece, in particular, are gorgeous.
John's two are both wonderful: "Brave New World" is a catchy number with a lilting beat, a wonderful song. "Star Bright", which closes the album, is just pure bliss - stripped down to the simplest of instrumentation and played at a very slow tempo, John puts in a wonderful vocal performance with a sweet sung melodic line. As the music fades quietly away on this songs, it provides the most wonderful ending to the album!
Overall then, a very good album let down by a couple of unsuccessful "revisits" and a slightly "muddy" production. Worth getting if you enjoyed the band's 70s music.