Though not a lot of folks on either side of the Atlantic have noticed, it's been more than a decade since Procol Harum released an album of original and mostly new material. Which begs the question: Will The Well's on Fire merely prove that the well has indeed run dry for the British band responsible for making Whiter Shade of Pale virtually impossible to avoid and decipher in the late 60s?
Fortunately, the band waited until Keith Reid, its non-playing songwriter, actually had something to say about the here and now. Currently a Manhattanite, Reid brings a New York state of mind to bear on three tracks: The Blink of an Eye, a ballad about Sept. 11 written in a sincere and, at least by Reid's standards, surprisingly straightforward fashion; The VIP Room, a swift skewering of the hipper-than-thou crowd; and Wall Street Blues, an unsympathetic accounting of the newly broke and disheartened. But neither Reid nor singer-keyboardist Gary Brooker sound as if they're bending over backward to be au courant. Brooker's tenor, still strong and soulful after all these years, frequently evokes the band's distant [sic] glory days, especially when organist Matthew Fisher goes gothic, and there are times on An Old English Dream and other songs when Reid's lyrics zig-zag familiarly between the poetic and indecipherable. In between the topical songs and the album's pale-shaded coda, Weisselklenzenacht (The Signature), sharply contrasting allusions to Handel-flavored progressive rock and the band's R&B roots help compensate for a few ponderous lulls.
Appearing Tuesday at the Birchmere. • To hear a free Sound Bite from Procol Harum, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8106. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)