Focus con Proby

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As great ideas go... this probably wasn't one. Take one down-on-its-luck European prog band, three years and several missing members past its prime; one 60s semi-superstar whose actual renown as a performer was never as vast as his admirers and PR cuttings insisted it was;and then send them in the studio together. What do you think you'd get?

Actually, you get a lot more than you were probably expecting. Even without Jan Akkerman, "Sylvia and the trademark yodelling solos, Focus circa 1978 remained a formidable instrumental force, with guitarist Eef Albers readily capable of assuming his illustrious predecessor's mantel, and Thijs Van Leer continuing to pen some remarkable melodies and passages. PJ Proby, too, could still sing the birds out of the trees when he put his mind to it and, compared with the multitude of other projects to which he turned his tonsils during the 70s and 80s, his collaboration with Focus might well be the only one that does live up to all his own hype.

Proby features on five of the album's nine tracks, and it's a sign of how seamlessly the two sides came together that, after a handful of listens, Focus' own instrumentals actually seem somewhat lacking - in punch, in power and in purpose. Two Albers tracks, "Orion" and the jazzy "Night Flights", are especially disappointing, all the more so since they fall between two of Proby's own greatest showcases, "Wingless" and the supremely stately "Eddy".

In idle hours, one can regret that the team never tried its hand at what remains one of the most legendary jewels in the Focus archive, the lyric-laden version of "Sylvia that Van Leer wrote (but, apparently, never recorded) in the late 1960s - with its haunting guitar backdrop, "Eddy" comes close, but it's not quite the same thing. Overall, however, it's difficult to fault the music these two unlikely poles did conjoin to create, rendering Focus Con Proby one of the most unexpected triumphs in the entire Focus catalog. And one of the best things Proby has ever done.

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