Procol Harum

It’s been 50 years since Procol Harum turned the music world on its ear with “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” — a tome built on a Bach chord progression and provocative, almost hallucinogenic lyrics. Over the course of 10 years, the group issued 10 albums, each unique in their breadth, style and musicality. Procol Harum came back in the 90s after almost 15 years apart, without drummer B.J. Wilson, who passed in 1990 and considered by many the heartbeat of the band. Since then, three more albums have been issued with 2017’s Novum being their first in 14 years. By the sound of it, singer and pianist Gary Brooker, the band’s sole original member, isn’t about to hang it or Procol Harum up any time soon.

Novum is hardly ground-breaking, but it adequately represents a legendary band in the latter stages of their life span, flexing their muscles and adhering to the highest standards previously established. Brooker, whose voice seems to have weathered the storm of five decades, is joined by three members since the early 90s — bassist Matt Pegg, guitarist Geoff Whitehorn and organist Josh Phillips. This is the first Procol Harum studio release with drummer Geoff Dunn, who's occupied the throne since 2006. Pete Brown, best known for penning the lyrics to Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love,” has replaced Keith Reid as the band’s word man. Together, they’ve molded 11 songs into a fairly cohesive collection.

"I Told On You" is a suitable opener that finds all the players falling into the right place. "Last Chance Motel" goes a little light and "Image Of The Beast" is edgier, a showcase for Whitehorn's guitar work, alongside Brooker’s smooth vocal. Things start to get deeper when "Soldier" ascends, a brilliant ode driven by Phillips’ keys and Brooker’s ivories, before the rest of the band comes in to lift the melody and fill in the bottom end. "Neighbour" is whimsical, in that sort of Procol Harum tongue-in-cheekiness that rang through early ditties like "Mabel" and "Good Captain Clack." The teeter-totter of lightness and heaviness comes to a head on the stylish ballad “Sunday Morning” and the crunchy chords behind “Businessman.”

By the time you land on "The Only One," there’s no denying Novum was crafted with great care and reverence to the legend of Procol Harum. A near-perfect blend of melody, intonation and sweet doses of electric and acoustic guitar, here is a song that clearly stacks up to the best of what the storied catalog has to offer. A soft farewell with “Somewhen” and you almost expect an encore. According to Brooker, Novum is, thanks to the band and producer Dennis Weinreich, one of the “finest Procol Harum albums ever.” They all say that of course, but in this case it might actually be true.

~ Shawn Perry

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