Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Dave Ball's solo album • Don't Forget your Alligator

Angel Air SJPCD395 • Reviewed online

From under the radar, one of the best British guitarists returns to the high life.

A stained background with a lady and a gentlemen, plus a croc [sic], sketched over it whispers patinated Englishness but there's also a subconscious sign for those in the know: the man in a top hat with a guitar in his hand reflects Dave Ball's pose on the cover of PROCOL HARUM's Grand Hotel from where his head had been chopped off and replaced by a successor, and he wore the same headgear in 1969, during his stint with BIG BERTHA whose picture – featuring his brother Denny and Cozy Powell, some years before the three reunited as blues merchants in BEDLAM – graces the booklet of this, the veteran's first ever solo album. Recorded while living in Australia, in Denny's studio and with his bass on, Alligator is brimful of absurdist nostalgia that brought Dave back to the [sic] Blighty, so when Old Aunties and Uncles goes, "Make some tea, the kettle's nearly boiling", it's as sentimental as it gets, even though the '40s-styled musical references come scattered all over the place, starting from the title track, with a vaudevillian panache.

And then there's humor for many a line to bring a smile to the listener's face, albeit when Ball describes various aspects of his talent – a poet, an artist, an actor, a gardener – in Gonnadothis Gonnadothat, he's not joking: he's had a hand in different crafts. Yet when a heartbeat pulls a fat guitar into the dramatically orchestrated Code Blue it's clear what's Dave's primary weapon that's been so sorely missed for long, the point he reinforces by a magical string harmony in Who Really Cares and Stardust Maginty, dedicated to the author's mother who's seen in the aforementioned photo, and an elegant acoustic solo in Priceless. Still, the main focus here is on the songwriting rather than playing, so the surreal lyrics of The Madness of George Pritchard pack a vertiginous punch(line), while Geriatric Slumbers boldly updates the Carl Perkins-patented rockabilly, and if the veteran's not the best vocalist around the block, his rough voice is a perfect fit for the dirty blues of Meltdown Shuffle. A charming, fascinating and totally endearing missive from the genuine master – Dave Ball scores his goal.

4.3333 stars

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