Procol Harum was instrumental in launching prog rock, a genre that produced some of rock's most pretentious, embarrassing junk. But the group consistently made ambitious, high-minded music without sounding pompous, conveying complex musical and lyrical ideas within compact, artfully crafted songs. And best of all it rocked.
Rising from the ashes of white R&B combo The Paramounts, Procol Harum never lost touch with its roots, applying an earthy edge to even the most grandiose conceptual leaps. Gary Brooker's soulful vocals and gospel piano-pounding lent immediacy to lyricist Keith Reid's surrealist wordplay, while organist Matthew Fisher's classical interpolations balanced majesty and grit. The band scored a hit in 1967 with its enigmatic début single, A Whiter Shade of Pale, and spun that success into a decade-long career that spawned such memorable albums as Shine on Brightly, A Salty Dog, and Grand Hotel.
Procol Harum's 1991 reunion effort, The Prodigal Stranger, unwisely ditched the group's trademark sound in favor of a contemporary production sheen. The new Well's on Fire (Eagle) is truer to the band's original style, with some worthy Brooker/Reid compositions and solid performances by the ensemble's current incarnation, which includes Brooker and Fisher plus ex-Crawler guitarist Geoff Whitehorn, former Big Country drummer Mark Brzezicki and bassist Matt Pegg. This line-up has been active for nearly ten years so expect it to do justice to the classics in these intimate gigs.