A Salty Dog (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2504)
Esoteric Recordings are busily re-releasing some very fine material in CD form, and one its latest and best is Procol Harum’s 1969 best-selling LP, ‘A Salty Dog’. Long available in various editions, this one is a 24 bit digital remaster, and also has a sister release, with much extra material. It is the LP plus one extra I review for you here.
By the time of ‘A Salty Dog’s release, Procol Harum were established as one of the UK’s top cross-genre bands, with an international hit under their purple suede belt from their classic ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’. The eponymous title track of this CD is a departure their slice of baroque pop, however; the lush orchestration with its troughs and peaks sounding like the perilous sea voyage the song witnesses. The title track was also to have a life outside the confines of the original LP, in being memorably covered by Marc Almond in 1986 for his ‘A Woman’s Story’ 12’’ single.
‘The Milk of Human Kindness’ jaunty organ, soulful vocal and muted guitar provides a release from the title track’s turgid delivery, soon settling into chirpy backing, in contrast with this tale of an emotionally draining relationship’s end.
‘Too Much Between Us’ calm, assured guitar and voice opening leads into a sensitive analysis of the emotional distance between lovers and friends alike.
The attention-grabbing drum opening to ‘The Devil Came From Kansas’ shakes us from our torpor, its slow, heavy saturnine rhythm entirely apt for a song that may be about loss of direction in life, or the temptations that present themselves to the successful rock star.
‘Boredom’s gentle string strum, dancing marimba and winding recorder chirp gives a much needed lift, cloaking its song of frustrated expectations, whether from love, or life, or both.
The aggressive blues of ‘Juicy John Pink’ is worthy of any of their more purist contemporaries, the vocal raw and throaty, the guitar strangled to within an inch of its life, the lyric a familiar tale of your own mortality’s certainness, and your possible fearful destiny in the world beyond.
Back with tales of the sea, ‘Wreck of the Hesperus’ enlivening piano opening and cannon-shot drum beats perfectly set the scene for this song of dashed hopes and dangerous times on the mighty ocean.
‘All this and more’ leads us into a glorious, rising, ‘Homburg’ style melody, and a song of the renewing power of love over all trauma.
‘Crucifiction Lane’s Biblical references fit well with this slow, soulful blues, the elegantly turning guitar riff reflecting the moribund lyrics. Whether it’s about the saviour, or perhaps a more earthly character, I’ll leave up to you to decide.
‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ organ and voice double act evoke the band’s aforementioned world famous hit, a reflective tale of the playing out of decisions, dashed hopes and unintended consequences with more highly evocative references to the sea.
Bonus B-Side track ‘Long Gone Geek’ hits us with a steady rollin’ blues rock riff in a jokey Wild West tale of an absurd jail break, and what it’s doing on this otherwise worldly and uplifting LP is anyone’s guess. BUY HERE!
Home (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2506)
Another worthy re-release by Estoreric Recordings, is Procol Harum’s fourth album. Still riding high on the success of their international 1967 hit ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, Procol Harum released their ‘Home’ LP in 1970. With its pop art cover, somewhere between a game board and a Peter Blake style collage, with the band running around as cartoon characters, this jokey cover disguised the largely pitch-dark material within.
‘Whisky Train’s taut, energetic lead guitar riff, cow bells and a strong vocal shuttle along like the steam train used as a metaphor for the hazardous journey of alcoholism. A song full of hopeful intent, it’s a great way start to the LP.
The Hieronymous Bosch-like atmosphere pf ‘The Dead Man’s Dream’ opens with slow piano, a little nod to ‘Homburg’ in the music, with a brooding organ backing that builds up, the lyrics becoming ever more macabre as the song rumbles on.
‘Still There’ll Be More’s threat of painful revenge careers about like a speeding lorry, the music a little jauntier than the jet-black lyrics would suit.
‘Nothing That I Didn’t Know’s music comes as a relief, its gentle acoustic guitar opener, punctuated by dramatic drumbeats, building nicely, again at odds with the sad tale of a girl’s fatal suffering.
‘About To Die’s gospel feel, with organ exclamations and lyrical allusions to Christ work well, in this song of religious self-certainty.
‘Barnyard Story’s slow, solemn piano and glorious swell are more like the Procol Harum of just a few years before, but hidden in a mysterious tale of the closeness of the barnyard to the boneyard.
‘Piggy Pig Pig’ continues this country-based theme, the heavy, heavy piano and drums, lots of echo and more mysterious, dirt, disease-ridden lyrics make for a strong track, the lead guitar work kicking in powerfully and ending in farmyard noises that sound more unnerving than comical.
‘Whaling Stories’ title, suggestive of another ‘A Salty Dog’ is soon complicated by jazzy tinkling of the ivories, (think about it) and sad, bluesy guitar licks. Anvil taps in the back ground, loud, exclamatory vocal performance and good, exciting riffs all work well, in this expansive high adventure story.
‘Your Own Choice’s jaunty, whimsical tale of life and love and drinking, and the hazards associated with them is a relief from the LP’s generally morbid tone.
Our bonus track has the US single radio edit of ‘Whisky Train’, in the then-fashionable, good, hard boogie, and all the better for it. BUY HERE!