Wednesday, 5 August 2015

"A Salty Dog: Deluxe Edition" by PROCOL HARUM [featuring Gary Brooker, Robin Trower, Matthew Fisher and Keith Reid (Lyrics)] (2015 Esoteric Recordings 2CD Reissue – Ben Wiseman Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...All This...And More..."

With a name loosely based around a Burmese Blue Cat – England’s Procol Harum and their droning melodramatic music has always been something of an acquired taste - beloved and derided in equal measure. But there's no doubting that there's properly great tunes on their 3rd album for EMI's Regal Zonophone Records (A&M in the USA). "A Salty Dog" saw the three songwriters in the band all step up with the moody goodies - singer Gary Brooker, keyboard player Matthew Fisher and ace-axeman Robin Trower.

The last time we were here was May 2009 when Salvo of the UK released their "40th Anniversary Edition" CD remaster of "A Salty Dog" on SALVOCD 020 (Barcode 698458812025 will identify that reissue). That remastered single CD reissue came housed in a gatefold hard card sleeve and boasted 6 bonus tracks chosen by Gary Brooker – a non-album B-side "Long Gone Geek", 4 Previously Unreleased live tracks from an American Tour in April 1969 with the LP Line-Up of the band in fine form and finally one "Raw Track, Take 1" of "The Milk Of Human Kindness". This time around we get a 2CD "Deluxe Edition" issued Friday, 31 July 2015 in the UK (August 2015 in the USA) on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 22503 (Barcode 5013929460348 identifies the correct issue) which gives us a 2nd CD with 12-tracks – 5 of which are Previously Unreleased. All six of the Salvo bonus tracks return on Disc 2 - along with the 7" Single Mono Mix of "A Salty Dog" and the 5 previously unreleased cuts already mentioned. Here are the ship-shape details for the 2015 Esoteric Recordings 2CD Version...

Disc 1 (40:38 minutes):
1. A Salty Dog
2. The Milk Of Human Kindness
3. Too Much Between Us
4. The Devil Came From Kansas
5. Boredom
6. Juicy John Pink [Side 2]
7. Wreck Of The Hesperus
8. All This And More
9. Crucifiction Lane
10. Pilgrim's Progress
Tracks 1 to 10 are their 3nd album "A Salty Dog" - released June 1969 in the UK on Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1009 (Stereo) and in the USA on A&M Records SP-4179. It peaked on the UK charts at 27 and 32 in America.

Disc 2 (48:22 minutes):
1. Skip Softly (My Moonbeams)
2. Wish Me Well
3. Long Gone Geek
Tracks 1 to 3 are a "Top Gear" BBC Radio One Session recorded 6 Oct 1968 and are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED

4. Goin' Down Slow
5. Juicy John Pink
6. Crucifiction Lane
7. Skip Softly My Moonbeams/Also Sprach Zarathustra
Tracks 4 to 7 recorded live in the USA with the LP line-up in April 1969 and first appeared on the 2009 Salvo CD reissue (previously unreleased at that time)

8. The Milk Of Human Kindness – recorded 20 May 1969 for the "Symonds On Sunday" BBC Radio One Program – PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED

9. Juicy John Pink – recorded 27 May 1969 for John Peel's "Top Gear" BBC Radio One Show – PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED

10. A Salty Dog (Mono Single Mix)
11. Long Gone Geek (Non-Album B-side)
Tracks 10 and 11 are a UK 7" single released May 1969 on Regal Zonophone RZ 3019

12. The Milk Of Human Kindness (Take 1, Raw Backing Track) – recorded at Abbey Road Studios on 31 January 1969. First appeared on the 2009 Salvo CD reissue (previously unreleased at that time).

GARY BROOKER - Lead Vocals, Piano, Celeste Three Stringed Guitar, Harmonica Recorder and Woods
MATTHEW FISHER - Organ, Vocals, Marimba, Acoustic Guitar, Piano Recorder and Rhythm Guitar
ROBIN TROWER - Lead Guitar, Vocal, Acoustic Guitar and Sleigh Tambourine
BARRIE WILSON - Drums, Conga Drums and Tabla
KEITH REID - Lyrics on all 10 tracks

Along with Lyricist Keith Reid - Gary Brooker provided "A Salty Dog", "The Milk Of Human Kindness", "The Devil Came From Kansas" and "All This And More" - while Robin Trower penned "Too Much Between Us" and "Juicy John Pink" with Matthew Fisher writing the remaining three - "Boredom" (a co-write with Brooker), "Wreck Of The Hesperus" and the album finisher "Pilgrim's Progress".

It’s housed in a foldout soft card digipak – much the same as the Universal Deluxe Edition sets but without a sticker bandana. They’re nice ‘but’ they also dreadfully flimsy and vulnerable to damage. Having just reviewed the excellent 3CD of “Shine On Brightly” which comes in a gorgeous shiny hard card Box (Clamshell) – it’s disappointing to get the other 2CD sets in these crappy digipaks (“Procol Harum” and “Home” are the same). Mine arrived with its spine already creased and crushed and once out of the shrinkwrap – fans will find it difficult to keep these things from getting all bent out of shape – or torn – or worse. I emphasise that its hardly Esoteric’s fault because this kind of packaging has become the norm now for 2CD DE Versions – I just wish they were ‘all’ the hard card Clamshell I got with the gorgeous “Shine On Brightly” because a row of those suckers would have been an event and genuinely looked tasty on my bulging CD shelves (at least something’s bulging in this house).

The Salvo issue had a lovely 20-page booklet – so does Esoteric’s – but we also get a very cool large fold-out poster in the 2nd flap which gives the album artwork on one side with the lyrics to all songs spread out across both sides making them easy to read and enjoy (Reid’s lyrics deserve a pride of place). Rare Euro and Japanese Pictures Sleeves of the "A Salty Dog" single adorn each inner flap with quality black and white publicity photos of the band featuring on the undersides. Beneath the see-through CD trays are the A and B-side of the British 45 on Regal Zonophone RZ 3019. The 20-page booklet is a sophisticated affair - liner notes by HENRY SCOTT-IRVINE that go into each track - there's EMI’s trade advert declaring the arrival of 'a classic album', lots of black and whites of the boys in the studio, a six-pack of superb pictures of the 7" single for "A Salty Dog" from the USA and Europe. There are recent recollections on certain songs by band members Robin Trower and Matthew Fisher along with the original LP Engineer Ken Scott. It's all very tastefully done actually (a bit of care taken)...

I’ve contacted Esoteric Recordings directly about the remasters because there were some tape-crawl/speed issues on the preceding Salvo versions. I’m assured that BEN WISEMAN was given access to the first generation master tapes for his 24-bit Digital Remasters (done at Audio Archiving in the UK) and any transfer issues of old have been resolved this time around. This is not just idle talk on their part – I have the Salvo version (which runs to 67:52 minutes) and you can hear an improvement on "Too Much Between Us" and "Wreck Of The Hesperus" in the rhythm sections – the Gulls and Strings opening to "A Salty Dog" – beautiful Stereo separation and Brooker’s voice clear as a bell. I would say there is also some noticeable hiss that hasn’t been dampened out of the mix - the drums packing wallop and Trower’s guitar real power ("The Devil Came Out Of Kansas" is huge). Beautifully produced by Matthew Fisher and Ken Scott in the first place – this 2015 remaster lets it rip - and even when Trower's guitar gets a bit wild in places (and grungy for that matter) - the stereo imaging isn't too harsh - still reflecting the original Production values.

It opens with the Classical-meets-Rock fusion of "A Salty Dog" and immediately the arrangements and melody sound epic - a single you feel should have done better. I've always felt though that the albums two masterpieces come from Trower and Fisher. Trower gives us the unexpectedly lovely acoustic vibes of "Too Much Between Us" - I can't help thinking it should have been single number two off the album with Fisher's equally pretty "Pilgrim's Progress" on the flip (Fisher does the vocal rather than Brooker). A&M Records put out "The Devil Came from Kansas" b/w "Boredom" in the USA on a 45 (A&M 1111) in July of 1969 - but it failed to chart. The British 45 of "A Salty Dog" b/w "Lone Gone Geek" on Regal Zonophone RZ 3019 managed a respectable placing of 44 in the UK - especially given how awkward the track was to pigeonhole in a Pop context. The sleigh bells of "Boredom" make the tune sound like Quintessence or Dr. Strangely Strange or some such hippy happiness. Side 2's grungy guitar vs. harmonica opener "Juicy John Pink" puts an end to that pronto - sounding like its recorded in a garage to get that gritty sound. The best Audio on the disc goes to "All This And More" where the piano, guitar and Brooker's vocals all sound with new clarity – again suddenly huge in the speakers...

On top of the six bonus tracks that first appeared on the Salvo CD in 2009 - Disc 2 offers fans the 7” single Mono Mix of "A Salty Dog" and five Previously Unreleased BBC Radio 1 'live-in-the-studio' recordings from October 1968 and April/May 1969. "...First number from Procol Harum..." the announcer tells us in his very BBC dulcet tones – the audio is good rather great in my opinion – with the organ almost lost in the mix. There is a lot of hiss on "Wish Me Well" but what it lacks in Audiophile sparkle it more than makes up for in balls - capturing Robin Trower sounding like Paul Kossoff of Free on a good day – what a great funky Rock groove. Next up is the B-side "Long Gone Geek" given a cool live airing – in fact you wonder why it didn't make the album. Louder and wilder is the April 1969 USA stuff (tracks 4 to 7) that Brooker approved for the Salvo reissue – and it’s easy to hear why. Trower and the boys are on fire in the Bluesy "Goin' Down Slow" while the Rock riffage of "Juicy John Pink" makes them sound more like Ten Years After than what we associate with Procol Harum. The "Symonds On Sunday" recording of "The Milk Of Human Kindness" is superb and shows the band back in the album groove. The Bonus Track B-side "Long Gone Geek" is a fabulous addition to any CD - the Procol Harum going all Small Faces with Reid nicking Bob Dylan lyrics.

There are four x 2015 titles in Esoteric's PROCOL HARUM 'Deluxe Edition' CD campaign so far and at this rate – all will be mandatory purchases for lovers of the band. "A Salty Dog: Deluxe Edition" is a superlative reissue and crucially improves on what went before. Well done to all involved...

2015 PROCOL HARUM CD Reissues/Remasters by Esoteric Recordings:

1. Procol Harum – January 1968 UK Debut Album - 2CD Deluxe Edition UK released 17 July 2015 on Esoteric ECLEC 22497 (Barcode 5013929459748)

2. Shine On Brightly – December 1968 2nd Studio Album – 3CD Deluxe Edition UK released 29 June 2015 on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 32500 (Barcode 5013929460041)

3. A Salty Dog – June 1969 3rd Studio Album – 2CD Deluxe Edition UK released 31 July 2015 on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 22503 (Barcode 501392946348)

4. Home – June 1970 4th Studio Album – 2CD Deluxe Edition released 31 July 2015 on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 22505 (Barcode 5013929460546)

This review along with many others like it are available in my SOUNDS GOOD Music Books Series. Clink the link below to see Exceptional CD Remasters 1960s & 1970s Volume 1

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