Thursday, July 16, 2009

Album project: B obscure

Barclay James Harvest, Everyone Is Everybody Else (1974): John Lees, Les Holroyd, Mel Prichard, and Stuart "Woolly" Wolstenholme formed Barclay James Harvest in 1967. They arrived at their name from pulling it out of a hat containing various suggestions. Over the next several years the band developed a progressive rock sound in the vein of Pink Floyd and The Moody Blues, later recording a song, "Poor Man's Moody Blues" in response to criticisms comparing BJH to that group. They slowly but steadily put together a respectable following in Great Britain and Europe, though never quite breaking through in the States.

They recorded Everyone Is Everybody Else, their fifth LP, with veteran producer Rodger Bain. Bain was best known as a producer of hard rock and heavy metal acts, most notably the early Black Sabbath, and he did not get along well with the band members while recording the album. In the end, the group was not totally satisfied with the sound of the disc. Nevertheless, Everyone Is Everybody Else turned out to be one of BJH's better-regarded efforts.

"Child Of The Universe", with its heavier rock sound, gained some UK radio airplay. The last three tracks, which segue into one another, were the most popular with US progressive rock radio. The suite starts with the surprisingly country-ish "Poor Boy Blues". This leads into the darker folk of "Mill Boys", before concluding with "For No One", which returns to the more typical BJH sound. The gloomy, synthesizer-heavy track is a cry for peace to an alienated world:

Everyone's a loner till he needs a helping hand
Everyone is everybody else
Everyone's a no-one till he wants to make a stand
God alone knows how we will survive

As backing to these images from the Iraq War, "For No One" presents a powerful anti-war message.

The original Barclay James Harvest broke up in 1998. Today Lees and Holroyd each lead groups using the name, with Wolstenholme performing with Lees' outfit. Mel Prichard passed away in 2004.

Bare Jr., Boo-Tay (1998): Bobby Bare Jr., the son of the legendary country performer, earned a Grammy nomination at age 8 when he recorded "Daddy What If" with his father. In the late 90's he put together a group that briefly contended for the Nashville country-punk throne established by Jason And The Scorchers.

Boo-Tay, the group's debut, features a fair number of earnestly-rocking tracks like "Tobacco Spit", "Faker", and "Love-Less" that combine a cheeky DIY spirit with just the right amount of twang. Often reminiscent of the aforementioned Scorchers, in their more settled moments Bare Jr. starts to head in the direction of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. The raucous "You Blew Me Off" (embedding not permitted) almost became a national hit.

Bare Jr. released one more LP, Brainwashed, prior to breaking up in 2000. Bobby Bare Jr. has since released several solo albums, as well as efforts with his Young Criminals Starvation League. Bare has had a tough time sustaining momentum; from what I hear around town his fellow musicians consider Bare to be a difficult man to work with. Former Bare Jr. guitarist Mike Grimes today owns Grimey's, one of Nashville's best indie record stores. The staff of Grimey's is by far the most knowledgeable in town.

Skip Battin, Skip Battin (1972): Clyde "Skip" Battin's career dates back to the 50's. With Gary Paxton, he formed the duo Skip & Flip that enjoyed Top 20 hits with "Cherry Pie" and "It Was I". As their fortunes declined, they made some singles with Los Angeles producer/impresario/BS artist Kim Fowley, who became Battin's main songwriting collaborator and good friend.

Battin's most prominent gig came between 1970 and 1973 as a latter-day member of The Byrds. With the Byrds, Battin was noted for his quirky songwriting, usually working with Fowley, and for his strong work on bass guitar. An underrated bassist, Battin's playing was well respected by the LA musical establishment, and in the later 70's and 80's he would go on to work with The New Riders Of The Purple Sage and The Flying Burrito Brothers. He passed away in 2003.

All of the songs on Skip Battin were co-written by Battin and Kim Fowley. I would likely have never heard of this one had it not been for "The St. Louis Browns", a folk tale of the hapless baseball team that became a radio favorite in St. Louis, and still occasionally pops up on the airwaves there today. That song alone was well worth the $2 I paid for the album when I saw it in a Wichita used record store some years later.

Be Bop Deluxe, The Best Of and The Rest Of Be Bop Deluxe (1978): Another British progressive rock outfit, Be Bop Deluxe was led by Bill Nelson (pictured at left), one of the 70's most unsung guitar heroes. Through six mid-70's albums, the group combined glam-rock style with a futuristic vision, with lyrics often drawn from science fiction. Their sound was defined by Nelson's often-amazing guitar playing, featuring his distinctive tone and nimble lead work. To get some idea of what Be Bop Deluxe was about, imagine David Bowie working with Robert Fripp as his lead guitarist.

For all their talent and effort, Be Bop Deluxe never caught on with the general public. One minor UK hit, "Ships In The Night", was all they had to show for their efforts in the marketplace when they broke up in 1979. Perhaps they were a bit ahead of their time; a number of 80's new-wavers and techno-rockers, including Gary Numan and Julian Cope, have expressed their admiration for the group. Numan's career, in fact, seems to have picked up where Be Bop Deluxe's left off.

Nelson went on to form Bill Nelson's Red Noise, but that group only recorded one LP before dispersing. Since 1980, Nelson has worked solo, giving him the leeway for a great deal of experimentation. He has been prolific - his Wikipedia entry lists almost 70(!) solo discs recorded over the last three decades. Many of these appear to be limited-edition experimental works, recorded in his home studio and marketed through his own label. An annual event called Nelsonica is held in York, England, which brings legions of Nelson's admirers from all over the world together to listen to live performances from their hero and other Nelson-inspired acts. Nelson also records a limited-edition CD for the event each year.

"Ships In The Night" was Be Bop Deluxe's best-known track, but I prefer the shorter, punchier "Maid In Heaven".

I guess you know who's coming up next.