Thursday, October 29, 2009

Shine On Brightly

Procol Harum/1968

“In the autumn of my madness…when my hair is turning gray…” Okay, I can relate to that. Actually, a general sense of madness permeates all the lyrics on this album, thanks to lyricist/resident head case Keith Reid. After all, he’s the guy who wrote “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor, I was feeling kind of seasick, the crowd called out for more…” on the much-loved yet overplayed classic rock staple, “A Whiter Shade Of Pale.” It was that hugely successful hit single back in 1967 that unfairly relegated Procol Harum to one-hit wonder status. And that, my friends, is criminally inaccurate. Procol actually released a succession of strong albums spanning 1967 to 1977. And like Shine On Brightly, each displayed an exotic mixture of the baroque and the blues. Lead vocalist/pianist Gary Brooker would croon those strange and enchanted lyrics doing his best Percy Sledge imitation, backed up by moody Hammond organist Matthew Fisher and a then-unknown but eventual guitar god Robin Trower. And it would be remiss of me not to mention the late, great B. J. Wilson on drums. With Shine On Brightly, Procol took a huge leap forward. For starters, this one utilized that new, cutting-edge technology: stereo (believe it or not, the first album was only available in mono and ear-gnashing “electronically reprocessed” fake stereo). The highlight was the song suite “In Held ‘Twas In I,” taking up the better part of the vinyl Side 2. Opening with two ominous, sitar-embellished spoken-word poems/head-scratchers (“Well my son, life is like a beanstalk, isn’t it?”), it evolves into several musical sections punctuated by Trower’s heavy guitar ramblings and Fisher’s cathedral-like organ riffs. This epic culminates in “Grand Finale,” where Trower basically strangles his guitar and evokes one of the most emotionally intense solos ever laid down on tape. Many credit (or blame) Procol for creating the dreaded “concept album” with this stretched-out, multi-section piece. Problem here was, no hit singles. “Homburg,” the follow-up to “Pale”, sunk like a stone and wasn’t even included on this album. Thus began Procol’s descent into the “best band nobody ever heard” category, content with modest FM radio airplay and a constant touring schedule to help pay the bills. Gary Brooker resurrected Procol with various new lineups over the years. But none would shine quite so brightly as the band that recorded this masterpiece.

Essential tracks: “Quite Rightly So” “Shine On Brightly” “Rambling On” “In Held ‘Twas In I”

No comments:

Post a Comment