Esoteric Antenna 2013
Longing for freedom and living for love, purveyors of light prog come back home.
The bleak setting of BJH’s first album in 14 years – and their first since Woolly Wolstenholme cut his life short – evokes rumination on the times when the harvesting is done and one is to gather stones. That’s how the things are set in motion with a tiredly flowing “If You Were Here” until its pining ennui takes a vertiginous turn at the song’s end, when John Lees’ voice starts spinning from channel to channel for the listener to land on familiar ground which hasn’t been trodden for so long. Nor for nothing the record’s cover features a scenic view from the Northern parish of Saddleworth where the group come from.
Once on terra firma, the band’s patented sense of humor kicks in, too, and the riff of “The Real Deal” casts rocks far enough, with “it’a a long way back” argument, to convince yer olde fan the album is exactly what this track’s title suggests, yet even those who’ve been following BJH for four decades won’t be prepared for the brass-brandishing “On Top Of The World” that makes the homecoming glorious. Anxious love pours out of the record’s title piece depicting local landscapes and the twangy memory-lane emotions, but the album is as ancient as it is modern.
Thus, the slow boogie “In Wonderland” satirizes today’s ways of communication, with web acronyms thrown in for a chorus, and alloys the slang use of “schmetterling” with the ensemble’s symbol: a butterfly. Such an integrity lurks also in the alliteration between “North” and its predecessor, “Nexus,” as well as in the literary appropriation of Saddleworth’s Ammon Wrigley’s poem for the parting that is “The End Of the Day” wherein the gods of Ale and Mirth give birth to a child which can be a child of the universe, an important part of BJH’s lore. It’s elegiac rather than jolly, though, but Jez Smith’s piano in “Ancient Waves” and Lees’ guitar render this melancholy warm and delicate, while, for all its twilight shimmer, the 9-minute “On Leave” – surely a Woolly tribute – joins the pantheon of the band’s best ballads, whereas the quiet communal merriment fills the folk lustre of “Unreservedly Yours” that oozes the ultimate, if autumnal, dedication.
With the parallel existence of another BJH, featuring Les Holroyd, “North” could have been a simple attempt of reclaiming the legacy; instead, it turns out to be a shining addition to the classic canon.