1971 was a stellar year for rock music, and particularly for prog, art rock, classical rock, or whatever it was being called called back in the day when albums we now call 'classics' were still fresh on the new releases rack. It was the year of Yes' "Fragile", ELP's "Tarkus", Genesis' "Nursery Cryme", Pink Floyd's "Meddle", Jethro Tull's "Aqualung", The Moody Blues "Every Good Bot Deserves Favor", Procol Harum's "Broken Barricades", Deep Purple's "Fireball" and Uriah Heep's "Look At Yourself". 1971 also saw the debut albums from the Mahavishnu Orchestra and the Electric Light Orchestra. But this review is about another band that debuted that year. A band who perhaps got "lost in the shuffle" and never found the devoted fan bases or commercial successes enjoyed by the aforementioned titans...the band's name was "Fields".
Fields was a trio and 'supergroup' of sorts made up of keyboardist/songwriter Graham Field, formerly of Rare Bird (known for their UK hit, "Sympathy", later be covered by Marillion), drummer Andrew McCulloch (a defector from the King Crimson camp after 'musical differences' with Robert Fripp on the album "Lizard"), and lead vocalist/guitarist/bassist Alan Barry (fresh from a stint with the Giles Brothers). Despite the fact they were initially signed to CBS for a three record deal, this self-titled debut album, ultimately, also turned out to be the final output of their short career.
The music, to me, seems very much a product of it's time & place. One can hear some very familiar early 70's production techniques, tones, and sounds throughout the album, and there is no denying the influence of other period bands, namely ELP/The Nice in the proggier moments, and Deep Purple/Urian Heep in their rockier moments. Fans of Tony Kaye, Jon Lord, & Rod Argent will find a lot to love in Graham Field's growling Hammond Organ sound, and there is an obvious Keith Emerson influence when he occassionally lets loose with the classical chops. The guitars, while certainly not as dominant, have a very distinctive British blues-rock tone to them, while Barry's vocals reminded me at times of Uriah Heep's David Byron, particularly when Barry sings at the very top of his register.
As for the songs themselves...Those desiring side-long epics will probably be quite disappointed, as the longest track clocks in at less than six minutes. The band does, however, pack a lot of tight playing into their 3 to 5 minute compositions. Among the most traditionally "prog"-sounding pieces are "A Friend of Mine", "Over and Over Again" and "The Eagle", all of which benefit from the 'sometimes busy/sometimes basic' drumming of McCullogh and the dominant keyboards of Field, though I must say I didn't care for some of the more dissonant piano moments on "The Eagle". Adding some variety are tracks like "Three Minstrels" (which, as the tile would suggest, has a decidedly medieval flavor), "Fair Haired Lady" (acoustic, folksy and stripped down), and "A Place to Lay My Head" (a rather 'standard-issue' 70's blues-rock album filler). I must admit I didn't care much for the subdued, almost tentative-sounding instrumental, "Slow Susan", which could have benefited from some additional instruments. Ironically enough, it's a song called "Not So Good" that, for me, rates as the album's best track, with a Procol Harum-like feel and some tasty organ and piano touches.
One major criticism that I have of this CD re-release is that it sounds a little distorted in places, particularly in the higher end. I tried the CD out through standard stereo speakers as well as a pair of top-notch Koss headphones, and the distortion was still evident either way. It's particularly noticeable on track number 2, "While the Sun Still Shines". Having never heard the 1971 vinyl release, it's hard to tell whether this was a deficiency in the original recording, or the result of the CD being mastered at too high of a level. Either way, I found that the distortion really impeded my enjoyment of the music in a few places.
All in all, "Fields" has many good qualities and would be a good addition to the collection of anyone with a particular fondness for early 70s rock and prog, but, for me, it never quite rises to the level of some of the aforementioned classics of 1971. It would have been interesting to see what could have happened if Fields had stayed together, developed their sound, and fulfilled their three record deal with CBS. Would they have remained in obscurity or risen to greater heights?...I guess we'll never know.
Reviewed by Jeff Matheus on May 4th, 2011