“Upon the seventh seasick day/we made out port of call/A sand so white, and sea so blue/no mortal place at all.” The lyrics from their third album have always send chills down by spine whenever I would put it on from start to finish. The song about death and sacrificing their lives on the line as their Captain of the ship has lost it. And knowing there is no turning back. That and the release of the 2-CD set of the reissue of Procol Harum’s A Salty Dog has proved to be another crowning achievement from Esoteric Recordings.
Originally released in 1969 on the Regal Zonophone label, Procol Harum were finally having the ball rolling after the release of their first two albums (their sole self-titled debut and Shine on Brightly) and knowing the word-of-mouth and international acclaim thanks to A Whiter Shade of Pale, it was going to be another powerful adventure that would lie just around the corner.
And with Ken Scott as an engineer and assistant on most of the tracks who would later work with David Bowie, Supertramp, and Lou Reed to name a few and Matthew Fisher on the production realm, it was a perfect combination. Not to mention the cover re-design of the cigarette of the Player’s Navy Cut logo, it is one of another crowning achievements in the history of their career.
Songs like the downtown 12-bar blues shuffle in the styles of Cream’s Fresh Cream-era of Muddy Waters’ groove from Robin Trower’s harder edges from Clapton and harmonica blaring through Gary Brooker’s vocals in which it was recorded at the Rolling Stones old rehearsal rooms in Bermondsey Street. I could tell that they are having a grand time of Trower’s composition and almost as if the Blues is in his blood to take it home for Juicy John Pink.
The song also was engineered by Rolling Stones late pianist, Ian Stuart. The homage to the writings of Randy Newman is evidential from Keith Reid’s writing as he takes it up a notch with the blaring yet eruptive roar of The Devil Came from Kansas. And for Robin, I have to admit, he is nailing it through the rhythm and lead section on his Guitar just to give it that powerful crunch between B.J. Wilson thumping drum sounds and Brooker’s piano/vocals to nail it bit by bit.
Matthew Fisher comes into the picture to bring his vocals for a bit of Folk. With Boredom, which would later be covered by Tea and Symphony, is a mid-tempo Folk Rock almost sing-along song that resembles the essence of Strawbs’ Part of the Union while the troubled seas set to a symphonic arrangement in the styles of Tchaikovsky in a mourning lyrical beauty for the Wreck of the Hesperus.
And with the hymn-like lyrics that I always imagine the group recording this beautiful composition in a Church with Pilgrims Progress featuring the organ setting the haunting tone throughout the piece, it will make you get the Kleenex box for it. The Milk of Human Kindness is such a wonderful track with a music hall rhythm thanks to the piano introduction that is very much like if Scott Joplin had wrote it for them and see what they can do with it.
The dramatic All This and More, is a spectacular yet ascending composition. Brooker and Trower are brilliant together with awe-inspiring magnitudes by following a trombone section in the finale section as Brooker shines through his vocals. Robin Trower comes in with his vocals. Now I’ll admit, he’s not the best singer in the world, but the song Crucifiction Lane is in the styles of the Stones, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding with a gospel flavor of the lyrics of the seaside.
The bonus tracks on the second disc, features BBC Sessions they did for David Symonds on Sunday, John Peel’s Top Gear, live performance in the States on April of 1969, the heavy nugget of Procol Harum going into a Proto-Hard Rock eruptive keg of Long Gone Geek, a Mono single version of the title track (A Salty Dog), and a backing track.
The live performances is not in the best condition it is, but you can imagine yourself being in front of the stage being in awe of Procol Harum at their best and not to mention the dazzling take of Skip Softly (My Moonbeams) and having the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey (Also Sprach Zarathustra) as a climatic finale before breaking into the Sabre dance, makes it a wowing performance. It would also be Bassist David Knights last album as he would be a manager for Mickey Jupp’s Legend.
The 19-page booklet which features liner notes by Henry Scott-Irvine, who knows his stuff as I’ve mentioned before, the Sherlock Holmes of Procol Harum, does an amazing job on the notes and interview with the band and features memorabilia and pictures of the group. Mark and Vicky Powell again, have done well for the Esoteric reissue of Procol Harum’s classic and I hope they do more in the years to come.
And if you want proof, just ask either Martin Scorsese or Sylvester Stallone.