Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Procol Harum (Minus One): Edmonton reviewed

Joe Roman in The Great Speckled Bird, 22 May 1972


From its earliest beginnings, rock music has been associated with a rather adolescent emotional level. Sadness over a broken love affair is about as deep as it goes. Throughout the years occasional songs have expressed something more profound. However, only one group has consistently produced music with enough sensitivity and depth of emotion to transcend this adolescent image. That group is Procol Harum.

Never an immensely popular band, Procol Harum has, nonetheless, a devoted, almost worshipful following. These devoted fans have waited apprehensively for this new album, for Robin Trower, perhaps the most unique of electric guitarists, is no longer with the group. He has left to form his own band, Jude. Trower, more than anyone I can think of, was able to give a song flesh and a living soul. Some of his chord textures and solos on earlier albums can drive a Procol Harum devotee into fits of ecstasy.

Robin Trower's absence is surely felt in this new album. His replacement, Dave Ball, must be scared to death. The pressure must be great. It's like trying to be the new singer for the Rolling Stones! Ball does an admirable job, all things considered.

The obvious stylistic transition is made easier by the special nature of this album. It's a live recording made last November with the Edmonton Symphony of Alberta, Canada, and a full compliment [sic] of voices in the person of the De Camera singers. At last a symphony and an electric band has been united in an arrangement with the intelligence, taste, and sensitivity worthy of a symphony orchestra. Gary Brooker, pianist, vocalist, and mastermind of Procol Harum, has done a superb job. He somehow avoids the excesses and pretentiousness usually inherent in orchestral rock, and the chorus sounds just lovely.

Up until now, the progression of Procol Harum albums showed an increasing influx of hard rock influence probably because of Robin Trower. In his absence, Gary Brooker and his more classically based talents are in control; at least, the choice of material for this album would indicate that.

The first side spans the group's first four albums starting with Conquistador from their first, followed by Whaling Stories (Home, A&M, SP-4261), A Salty Dog and All This and More (Salty Dog, A&M, SP4179). The second side brings back In Held 'Twas I. This moving sound poem also covers the second side of Procol Harum's monumental second album Shine On Brightly (A&M, SP-415 1). To me, the last two segments of In Held 'Twas I are among the most powerful musical compositions in any form. I don't see how the audience that witnessed this concert was able to move from its seats after it was over.

Gary Brooker's singing and piano work are at their best on this album. The vocals grow, in their power and clarity, as the concert progresses. BJ Wilson plays drums with a taste and discipline that is both controlled and spectacular throughout. He never seems to compete with the symphony percussion nor with the rest of Procol Harum. Chris Copping plays beautifully on organ and harpsichord. Alan Cartwright, a newly added bassist, performs simply and flawlessly.

This album won't create any sensation among the rank and file record buyers. If you are a believer in Procol Harum, I don't have to suggest that you buy it. You will. If you don't like Procol Harum, it doesn't matter to me. Frankly, I rather like Procol Harum not to become too popular. They're much too good, too unique, and original to be rock stars. It would be like hearing Brahms on Top 40 radio.

Procol Harum will be coming to Atlanta on July 14 for a concert at the Sports Arena. Save your money and go. Procol Harum in a small, private place promises to be a memorable experience. Procol Harum is to be heard. Play the record. You'll see.

(thanks, Unsteady Freddie)

More Procol History in print at BtP 




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