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17 April 2017

Richard Harris - 'The Yard Went on Forever...' (Dunhill)

This moustachioed Irishman sure could croon! The followup to the mega-hit album which contained 'MacArthur Park' landed without much fanfare, despite Jimmy Webb going all-out to make a well-crafted orch-pop masterpiece. The Yard Went On Forever... is actually one song in eight parts, more like an opera, with themes coming and reappearing later, so I guess that makes this a concept album? There's a lot of imagery about children here, including some actual ones singing, and the lyric sheet takes the time to twice footnote the line 'she's skipping like a stone' as 'Before Nilsson', so you better be sure this wasn't a ripoff. I have a soft spot for Mr. Webb and somehow his progressive Southern American songcraft makes a nice match with Harris's soulful balladeering. It doesn't feel Irish in the slightest, though the format I somewhat associate with Scott Walker and some hybrid concept of 'Europe', and I guess this is a reverse version of that. The title track is nice to lose oneself in, with it's start-stop jerkyness, swells of orchestral magic,  backing vocals from the aforementioned kids and Webbisms like 'Does everybody have a place to hide?' There's some sort of social conscience here with lyrics about Nagasaki and Bombay and doomsday, but I just like the way it all crashes together.  I don't know what any of it means, but it's nice to listen to sometimes. Even still, I must admit this is a strange record to keep in the accumulation, found at a flea market and very rarely dusted off. The back cover has Harris in a bandanna with a Rambo font (though of course years before Rambo was created), which makes this feel like such a product of Vietnam and the changing social times - was he looking to garner cred with vets? Also, someone named David Duke plays French horn on this - I'm guessing it ain't THAT David Duke, but it's funny to imagine it so. I can see why it made sense to pair these guys up again and this is a great set of songs, though there's nothing particularly memorable here - no 'Galveston', no 'PF Sloan' - and I'm sure it was a commercial disappointment after 'MacArthur'. But then again, why the hell was that song so huge anyway? A perfect storm of right place, right time, I guess. Anyway, Dumbledore really belts them out here, and when he gets more aggro ('Gayla') it can be almost scary, at least if you have this turned up as loud as I do. But I'm more into the arrangements, which come from the Song Cycle style of American orchestral pop; the harpsichord and flutes float above everything, and for an early stereo mix, they did a pretty decent job. I understand why people go apeshit over listening to old pressings of records like this because it really sounds huge, almost like this was the genre of music my turntable was really designed for. I really liked Harris in that Lindsay Anderson film about Rugby League; this feels like a polar opposite to that aesthetic, though probably united through the concept of dirt. 

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