Many bands extend their bandwidth by trying (or revisiting) different arrangements of songs; Unpluggedhas become a rite of passage for rock acts trying to become (or stay) relevant. Likewise, several bands will go the orchestral route, swelling their sound with a twenty, thirty, eighty piece orchestra to channel their bombast and maybe even gussy up some of those relatively ordinary chestnuts from their catalogue. But making the effort is one thing – making it worthwhile is something else entirely.
Let’s face it – for some bands, playing with an orchestra is just silly. The Rolling Stones would be neutered, although it would be fun watching Keith Richards trying to conduct the orchestra with head twitches and fey wrist movements. KISS actually recorded an album with the Melbourne Symphony, but all that did was expose the weakness of the material (no great shocker there) and reduce the accompaniment to an eighty piece echo.
But some bands were made to collaborate with such an organism, and Procol Harum is one of them. When your music is that majestic and complex, the backing of large and versatile instrumentation turns it into a 3-D experience. Arrangements color subtleties and enhance delicate movements, pin-drop beats explode into a thundering chorus. Add in the lyrics of a storyteller and an emotional vocalist and it can occasionally be breathtaking.
Procol Harum just released a CD and DVD of their 2006 performance with the Danish National Concert Orchestra and Choir (Eagle Vision) and if I could pick one moment to illustrate the powerful emotions I described, it would be “A Salty Dog”. I’ll wager there were people in the audience moved to tears.
Procol Harum is no stranger to this motif; back in 1972 they released an album recorded with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Great to see that forty-plus years later, it’s still a perfect fit for them.
Here’s my review of the new album at Blurt Online.
Procol Harum fan page.