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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise

JULY 31, 2000: 

Procol Harum BBC Live In Concert (Fuel 2000/Varèse Sarabande)

Here's another welcome blast from the past, courtesy of the BBC Worldwide Music archives and the folks at Fuel 2000. As one of the most melodic and popular post-Beatles progressive/art rock bands, Procol Harum took the pop music world by storm in 1967 with their first single, the ubiquitous "A Whiter Shade Of Pale." No one seemed to know what the lyrics meant, but the song became a modern-day standard, instantly recognizable and of infinite dimension in its influence on the marriage of classical and rock music.

There's always been some confusion regarding just what the name Procol Harum stands for (is it Latin for "far from these things" or just the odd moniker for a friend's house cat?), but the talent and musicianship of the band were never in question. Most of the group had been individual members of the Paramounts and then the Pinewoods before hitting the charts as Procol Harum. Although there were a number of personnel changes over the years, the primary Procol Harum sound was composed of Gary Brooker on soulful vocals and piano, Matthew Fisher on organ, Robin Trower on guitar, and B.J. Wilson on drums. Another essential member, Keith Reid, functioned purely as the literary lyricist for the band.

By the time this live recording was captured on March 22, 1974, Fisher and Trower had sought greener pastures, leaving Procol Harum as a tightly knit rock band that played for keeps. Brooker, Wilson, and Reid remained, along with Chris Copping on organ, Alan Cartwright on bass, and Mick Grabham on guitar. A previous official live album from 1972, Procol Harum Live With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, typified the lush Procol Harum sound, but the music from this BBC concert stands apart as a driving testament to the band's excellence, without a massive string section necessary to define its presence.

When this album was recorded, Procol Harum was touring in support of their eighth album, Exotic Birds And Fruit. They keep the "oldies" to a minimum. No "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" is performed, although the set opens with a stripped-down version of "Conquistador" from their first record and includes a nearly 9-minute version of "Whaling Stories" from their fourth album, Home, an ahead-of its-time concept album about death.

With the exception of one flat-out rocker from Broken Barricades ("Simple Sister") and two songs from their previous record, Grand Hotel (the title cut and "Bringing Home the Bacon"), the remaining tracks showcase six songs from the underrated, world-weary Exotic Birds And Fruit. Standout versions include "New Lamps For Old," "As Strong As Samson," a barbed jab at their then-current record label, Chrysalis, "Butterfly Boys," and the rousing closer, "Nothing But the Truth."

Procol Harum would release only two more studio albums before pulling the plug just three short years later in 1977, but the band that storms through this live show displays no signs of rust or decay. After a 14-year hiatus, Procol Harum briefly reformed with Trower and Fisher to record The Prodigal Stranger in 1991 (sadly, stalwart drummer Barrie "B.J." Wilson died prior to the reunion), but soon disbanded due to eternal personality conflicts.

This BBC Live In Concert stands as an excellent document of the power and glory that were Procol Harum, who checked pretense at the door to make great rock music for those with more than just a lick of sense. -- David D. Duncan

Peter Case Flying Saucer Blues (Vanguard Records)

A gifted folkie who's been hovering around the fringes of the mainstream for almost two decades now, Peter Case has finally succeeded in making a record that reconciles his musical past with his present. Since leaving the Plimsouls, the venerated pop band he co-founded in the early '80s, Peter Case has been suffering from an identity crisis of sorts. With this album Case has finally found a happy medium between being a fundamentalist folk and blues man and a full-scale pop-rocker. Flying Saucer Blues reveals a nice mix of these personas, as well as featuring his steadily improving songwriting talent.

Although Case draws from the same pool of musicians here that he used on his last release, the new CD has a much richer sound than 1998's spartan Full Service No Waiting. It also marks a more upbeat, frolicsome departure for the often melancholic singer-songwriter. The opening track has a beguiling John Prine-ish melody set to some hopeful, post-apocalyptic lyrics. "Cool Drink O' Water," which Case describes as an "exercise in blues couplets," rocks out with muted vocals and a tart, mocking horn refrain. "Walking Home Late" is a laid-back paean to Memphis music and heat, while "Coulda Shoulda Woulda" is a rollicking, sassy backroads boogie that would make Joe Ely proud. Among the best are the sexy cabaret slouch of "Lost in Your Eyes" and the street-story raunch of "Two Heroes." But Case's trademark pop ballads are still in evidence, most notably on the deceptively simple but lovely "Something Happens."

Flying Saucer Blues is a very listenable balance between bedrock folk and blues and power pop. -- Lisa Lumb

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