Procol Harum

Then & Now: The Best of Procol Harum

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As its title implies, the umpteenth Procol Harum compilation collects tracks from the band's debut, released in 1967, through music available digitally, recorded in 2009. The hook -- sort of -- on this particular collection is that it presents at least one selection from each of Harum's releases. Also, the sound is pristine, taken from the 2009 remasters. The set list ranges from the obvious ("Whiter Shade of Pale," "Homburg," "Conquistador [Live]") to relative obscurities from the group's long tenure. The compilers make some unusual choices, picking the lovely title track from Broken Barricades over the far more popular and rocking "Simple Sister" or even "Power Failure" from that album. With four songs from the classic debut and another three from their sophomore release, Home (the gloomy "Barnyard Stories" appears here in a 2009 live rendition), it's clear there was a drop-off in quality as time wore on, although 2003's The Well's on Fire ("Wall Street Blues" appears from a 2009 concert recording) was a return to form. Frontman/founder/singer Gary Brooker has one of the great voices of British rock and makes even Procol's weakest moments worth hearing. The 16-page book includes rare photos and reproductions of picture sleeve singles along with an overly effusive but informative essay. Track personnel are not listed for individual tunes, an unforgivable oversight for any historical compilation, but it's especially frustrating for an act that changed members so frequently. As with any single-disc synopsis of a group with such a long and winding career, even one with 17 cuts, fans will gripe over what's been overlooked. But this is a classy recap and between the top-notch audio and the inclusion of such seldom anthologized Procol gems as "Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)" and the jaunty "Your Own Choice," it's an excellent summary of the U.K. bluesy prog/art rockers' distinctive style and musical approach over the decades.

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