Procol Harum

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Procol Harum • A Salty Dog and Home 

Salvo reissues Nos 3 & 4, reviewed by Alan Robinson at Shindig

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A Whale of a Time: Procol Harum’s third and fourth expanded.

The Salvo reissues of the Procol Harum catalogue are rapidly setting the benchmark for how reissues should be done. The Procols’ recordings have been digitised several times over the last twenty years or so, but have never been given the kind of all-encompassing treatment they deserve… until now.

A Salty Dog was the third Procol album, originally released in June 1969. The original ten tracks are supplemented here by a further six bonus tracks, five of them live recordings from an April ’69 US tour, selected by main man Gary Brooker.

A Salty Dog opens with the majestic title track, a stately and elegant, oddly moving and elegiac piece, with a string arrangement conducted by Brooker, and is perhaps the most concise distillation of how to fuse elements of classical orchestration with a rock lyric. A Whiter Shade aside, it’s the band’s defining moment, and has never sounded better than on this release. Contemporaries such as Jimmy Page acknowledge it as Procol’s finest recording, and he’s not wrong; when released as a single, however, it ran aground at #44 – rough justice for such an indisputably fine track, but in truth, it would’ve been a tough commercial call at any time.

For all the allusions to 'classical-rock' fusion that are frequently attached to the band, listening to A Salty Dog and its gritty successor, Home, serves to confound this notion by illustrating what a punchy and effective rock combo they were at heart. They could also turn their hands adeptly to delicate acoustic balladry, such as A Salty Dog’s Too Much Between Us, a co-write between Brooker, lyricist Keith Reid and guitarist Robin Trower, with a lyrical reference to the sea that is a motif that threads through several tracks on the album.

Home, originally released in ’70, was the band’s last album before they moved on to the Chrysalis label – they’d already signed a new deal with Terry Ellis and Chris Wright, Chrysalis management, and the upbeat atmosphere informed a record that crackles with the kind of vigour and punch that permeated much British rock as the ’60s morphed into the ’70s. Whisky Train kicks off proceedings in rambunctious style, while Whaling Stories is another Procol seafaring magnum opus.

Two great albums then, which should be hastily added to any self-respecting fan of the era’s collection.

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