The Mahavishnu Orchestra
The first time I ever heard the Mahavishnu Orchestra I hated them. But, I persisted, and after only a few listens, my life with John McLaughlin and The Mahavishnu Orchestra began. I stood in concert ticket lines not once, not twice, but three times to see this band. Live is the only way to see and hear this incredible 5-man formation which spans members from around the globe: The Mahavishnu John McLaughlin is from England, Bass guitarist Rick Laird is from Ireland, Drummer Billy Cobham is from Panama, Keyboardist Jan Hammer is from Czechoslovakia, and violinist Jerry Goodman is from the U.S. As a group, they were as cross-cultural as their music.
My first intro to The Mahavishnu Orchestra was with the album The Inner Mounting Flame. My first reaction was "Can't we just listen to Deep Purple instead?" But the record sunk its teeth in me, and I was Mahavishnu-hooked in no time. John McLaughlin's licks are just out of this world. My second favorite player in the band was Jan Hammer. I never much cared for a violin in the band. I've since gotten used to it, but I'm still not sure it works as a collective sound. Two guitars would have been so much better.
First off, I had a really hard time trying to place the style of their music. It wasn't rock, and it wasn't psychedelic. It wasn't jazz, and it certainly wasn't classical. What it was, was a blend of all of these elements. The music was crazy, erratic, and felt out of control. Yet, at the same time, it was all in perfect harmony. I soon found it fascinating. I always wondered how they could get from point A to point B with their strange accompaniments, wild solos, crazy, almost frenetic climaxes and long songs. But they did, and they did it so well that after the first album, I couldn't get enough. Prog-jam bands like Pink Floyd and Hawkwind had been covering this ground, but not in the way that The Mahavishnu Orchestra did. I couldn't believe how tight they were. "Birds of Fire" is a great album, and the songs "One Word" and "Resolution" are my favorites from that LP. I do favor their live album From Nothingness to Eternity as it reminds me of the three concerts I'd seen from them. The song "Dream" which occupies an entire album side is a magnificent journey through a musical network as intricate as the central nervous system. This album, recorded live, is the last of the original Mahavishnu lineup.
In many ways, Camel always seemed a cut above many bands. The music, though stylish, and in keeping with a general prog rock tone, is focused and contained. The songs are always a standout, and I've been driven to listen to as much Camel as I could get my hands on. The first album I ever heard from them was called "Moonmadness." To me, this album is what prog was all about; moody, atmospheric, rock solid at times, and masterfully performed. The songs "Airborne" and "Lunar Sea" are magnificent, while "Another Night" is a rock standard full of flavor with a moody presence. One of my favorites is "Spirit of the Water."The song strikes a Moody Blues-Alan Parsons Project chord within me which is great; anything combining those two elements is fine with me. Andrew Latimer's guitar work is stylish and and technically driven. Much like David Gilmour, he "winds up", starting softly, then ending with dramatic crescendos.
Another nice piece, probably one of my favorites is the song "Ice", a nice 10 minute guitar opus that features one of the most beautiful solos I've ever heard, as poignant at times as Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." "The Snow Goose" is a show-stopper, and probably many Camel fans' favorite LP. One can hear a lot of PFM flavor in their works. My favorite is still "Moonmadness." The use of flutes, synth, and chapter-like strong structure brings to mind musical images of Genesis and King Crimson, but with a flavor that only Camel delivers.
Barclay James Harvest
is perhaps one of the most interesting and unique prog bands ever to emerge from the 70's. The music can take a million journeys through a few lush valleys of mellotron and guitar-driven rock. There's a sense of musical drama coupled with an equally dynamic stage presence that is a trademark of Barclay-James Harvest. Moreover, the band has been an audience favorite for decades and still continue to mesmerize crowds with their brand of prog signature tunes. Among these would be the lovely "Galadriel" topped with a bit of "For No One" and "The World Goes on Forever" from the Oktoberon album. "Summer Soldier" played live was a tune that really stood out for me. I'd heard some rather tasty, hard rock live stuff from them on a live radio broadcast. The show was called the King Biscuit Flour Hour and featured a live concert every weekend. Trying to find that live flavor, I came across the double live album Barclay-James Harvest Live 1974.
As a collective whole, Barclay-James Harvest's musical ability only seemed so-so and failed to impress me. I still like them very much, and they've certainly worked hard over the years, and have put out some great work in the process. Their latter works became pretty interesting, and the song "Waiting for the Right Time" is incredible. The song "Sleepy Sunday" is probably one of my absolute favorites. Songs like Suicide and "Hymn" are emotionally stirring.
70's Barclay-James Harvest gave the world some pretty interesting works though. The song Mockingbird is a timeless classic, as is "The Great 1974 Mining Disaster". The live versions of these, as well as "After the Day," and "Medicine Man," are actually quite good, though the live album is recorded poorly. Barclay-James Harvest are like prog minstrels. The songs are great, very well-written, with a twinge of familiarity almost as if you'd heard them before somewhere else. Their music was at times ethereal, but always strangely attractive. To this day I can't explain what it is that I like so much, but they have a certain atmosphere. Keyboardist and founder "Woolly" Wolstenholme eventually gave up music altogether to be a farmer, eventually re-joined the band for a bit, then later, in 2010, he took his own life. Drummer Mel Pritchard left us suddenly in 2004 from a heart attack.
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