Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home

A Salty Dog

Reviewed for BtP by Chris Copping

Renowned Procol organist/bassist Chris Copping writes to 'Beyond the Pale' (March 2006)

"I recently came across a decent vinyl pressing of Salty Dog and decided to transfer it to CD to play in the car. 

"On Salty Dog Keith Reid continues his seafaring metaphor – being at sea being like love lost. The title track is magnificent, almost a musical equivalent to a Turner painting. The seagull sound merges into an intro of descending crotchet chords by piano and small string section. This intro repeats itself, with bass added, as the first part of the first verse: 'All hands on deck – we’ll run afloat -'. In Reid’s poetic world ships can run afloat rather than aground. A bosun's whistle is heard and the taps on the bell of BJ’s cymbal sound like ship’s bells. Then the drums come in, and what a drum sound. Hard to believe it is Matthew Fischer’s first production – or Gary Brooker’s first string arrangement. There is a wonderful plucked string interval before the final verse, which has some very fine solo string lines building to a climactic final chorus followed by the plucked string piece and ending with the seagulls. A magnificent song and a wonderful recording. Full marks.

"The guitar sat that song out, as did the organ. They are both back for the second track, Milk of Human Kindness, that features a detuned piano and another great drum sound. Robin plays sparse acerbic riffs that fit beautifully. Matthew joins in on organ. Another great track – a reflective sort of song given a bluesy treatment. More or less a live track.

"Then Too Much Between Us, a collaboration between Robin and Gary on the music – with more lyrics about being at sea and relationships on the rocks. An unexpectedly delicate acoustic guitar piece from Robin sets the tone for this wistful piece with subtle Celeste notes. Sparse organ work and a subtle bass line – this time the drum kit has a break. 

"But it is back with a vengeance for The Devil Came from Kansas. Truly great drumming and a sound to match. Power chords from piano and guitar, no organ! And a very apt vocal effect – dry, double tracked (whether actual or simulated) and hard panned with one side being a few milliseconds later than the other. A stunning time-defying drum break brings in the first guitar solo. The second solo sees the track out – my only reservation revisiting this album is that the panning of the guitar doesn’t sound as great as it did when I first heard it. That’s time for you.

"And then for something completely different – a Matthew-Keith composition called Boredom – featuring acoustic guitar, marimba, recorders and percussion – a good vocal from Matthew well supported by Gary in the choruses.

"A sensational side 1. Can Side 2 match it?

"Well – the first track certainly can. A sparse blues number called Juicy John Pink (great wit from Keith): a great guitar riff from Robin, something being thumped on the beat (possibly not a drum) and the odd harmonica riff.

"These six tracks are as notable for their variety almost as much as their quality. Anyone who said that this group just plays the same old song should be eating their words. 

"Side 2 track 2, first flaws: Wreck of the Hesperus another seafaring lyric (and a rattling good one too) – an ear-catching piano arpeggio with acoustic guitar bass and drums – but the melody is rather monotonous, especially with Matthew’s vocal, which does not work as well here as in Boredom – and the piano arpeggio also becomes a little monotonous (I think Matthew is responsible for that). The saving grace is a slightly Wagnerian string part (not Matthew’s first arrangement) in the middle, and the short guitar break seems like over-egging a pudding – whereas the title track works well with no guitar – this is overblown.

"All This and More – back to Gary and another wistful ballad: just piano, bass, guitar and drums – no organ – a portent perhaps. And some orchestral brass subtly underlining the chord progression towards the end. Much better

"Crucifiction Lane is an excellent blues ballad from Robin (and Keith). Good testament to Fisher’s production that he got Robin’s vocal sounding this good (for Robin may be one of the world’s best guitarists but he is not a singer). Everything but the vocal is good – yet the vocal makes a good pointer for a true blues singer like Bobby Bland or Otis Redding. Maybe it could be resurrected!

"And finally another vocal from Matthew. I’m sorry but we seem to be rather short of Gary vocals on this side. And the song, apart from the lyrics which are fine, seems to be trying to revisit Whiter Shade, if not parody it. Matthew has turned into a formidable producer as well as a brilliant organist but quite honestly, in the song-writing department Robin has the better of him. The track, if not the album side, is saved by a very nice chorale at the end with more great drumming.

"So finally I would have to say my favourite Procol album would be Side1 of Salty Dog (slipping in Juicy) combined with Side 1 of Exotic Birds and Fruit.

"Interesting footnote
Only four out of the ten tracks have organ, and the next album (four-piece) has five or six tracks out of nine with organ. The situation was redressed on Barricades however, which has hardly any Hammond (a chord at the end of Sister and a bit after the drum solo on Power Failure."

Thanks Chris!

More reviews of Procol Harum albums
More reviews of this particular album

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home