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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Procol Harum

Exotic Birds and Fruit (Deluxe Edition)

Review by Gary Hill

This new release is so cool. Not only do you get the original album (with two bonus tracks), but there are two full live CDs also included in the set. The whole thing comes in a deluxe digi-pack. There is a cool booklet included along with a separate mini-poster of the album art. The main album is quite strong. When you get a Procol Harum album you sort of know what you are getting, but each one has its own flavor. I'd consider this perhaps to be one of the stronger of their catalog. The live performances are both quite inspired and the sound quality is great.

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Track by Track Review
Disc One
Nothing but the Truth

A bit of studio noise starts this. They launch out into the song from there. This is a fast paced number that has a lot of folk rock built into it. Yet, it's also classically inspired and most decidedly progressive rock. They don't sacrifice the rock and roll for any of those higher musical ideals, though. This is a fun rocker.

Beyond the Pale
I love the guitar work on this cool rocker. There is a really classic feeling and vibe to this number. Sure, it's prog, but it's another with an emphasis on the rock textures.
As Strong as Samson
This number is much more of a folk rock song. It's the kind of thing you expect from the band, but seems to lose a little something from the powerful opening one-two punch.
The Idol
Starting with a piano and voice arrangement, this works out nicely from there. It really does work out into some killer rocking territory. The piece has so much style and emotion. It really manages to get things back on track.
The Thin End of the Wedge
Weird twisted jazz, beat poetry and psychedelia seem to merge on this oddity. There are some elements of this that make me think of King Crimson a bit. It's a weird song, but also very cool. This is arguably one of the most purely progressive rock related things here.
Monsieur R. Monde
Another decidedly progressive rock based cut, this has a bit of that King Crimson element with some Traffic on display, too. Of course, it's instantly recognizable as Procol Harum. This has a lot of rock and roll in the mix and some great energy.
Fresh Fruit
A bouncy little tune, this is odd, but also fun. It has some definite jazz reference to it.
Butterfly Boys
This is sort of a trademark Procol Harum rocker in a lot of ways. It's another fun and energetic number.
New Lamps for Old
I love this song. It has so much style and magic. It's not a big stretch for the band at all, landing in the vein of "Whiter Shade of Pale," but it's just a really strong tune.
Bonus Tracks
Drunk Again (B-side of single)

Much more of a bluesy rock and roller, this is strong stuff. I dig the piano groove on this, but the whole song is classy. It's not the proggiest thing here, but it's a lot of fun. There is some particularly expressive guitar work later in the tune.

As Strong as Samson (alternative mix in D?)
A cool alternate take, I like this better than the version on the album proper.  That one was a little lackluster. Here the cut seems more powerful.
Disc Two
BBC Radio One "In Concert"

They launch into this classic cut, one of their big hits. It's played with style and emotion. The group play this faithfully, and it works well. It's a great way to start the set.

Whaling Stories
This slow moving folk rock styled piece has some great blues in the mix. It's still proggy at the same time. It's another potent live recording. I like the balance between the mellower and more rocking stuff here. The building movement later in the track really brings the progressive rock to bear. That's quite an extended and dramatic segment, too.
Bringing Home the Bacon
A bluesy rocker, this is a classy cut. It has some cool tones and modes to it. It's also packed full of energy and groove. Yet there are enough proggy shifts and turns to keep it interesting. It's also trademark Procol Harum.
New Lamps for Old
This slow moving and powerful prog rocker works really well in this live telling. It's paced with magic and emotion.
Beyond the Pale
This rocker has a lot of class. It's built around some world music textures, but is still trademark Procol Harum. It also manages to rock.
As Strong as Samson
The piano leads out into this live rendition. They work into a full band treatment that's easily identifiable as Procol Harum from there.
Simple Sister
I love this rocker. The riff is so cool. The whole tune just works so well.
The Idol
Piano and voice lead things out on this number and hold it for a time. I almost think that I like this live take better than the studio version. This is such a strong rocker here in this performance.
Grand Hotel
The title Track from Grand Hotel, they put in a strong showing on this classic rocker. The classical piano break on this is so evocative and powerful. As they grow out into other directions from there it takes on a real old world vibe.
Butterfly Boys
This rocker is a solid entry into this live performance. It's not a standout, but works well.
Nothing but the Truth
Another strong live performance of a killer rocker, this is one of the better cuts in this live show.
Disc Three
Recorded Live at January Sound Studios, Dallas, Texas, 5 July 1974

I think this might be my favorite live performance of this song. I love the synthesizer sounds. The guitar is purely on fire. The whole thing just really rocks.

Bringing Home the Bacon
While perhaps not as strong as the opener, or the best version I've heard of this tune, this is still effective. It's a great way to continue the show in style.
Long Gone Geek
I dig the hard rocking guitar riff that leads this out of the gate. There is more of a hard-edged rock and roll vibe built into this thing.
This cut is cut from the "Whiter Shade of Pale" kind of clothe. It's an intruing piece that works very well.
Cerdes (Outside the Gates of)
The bass starts this, and they work out into a killer bluesy rocker that is one of the strongest tunes on this third CD. There is some scorching guitar soloing on the cut and Gary Brooker's vocals seem particularly potent.
Beyond the Pale
World music is all over the arrangement here. The cut has a bouncy energy and works well.
Power Failure
Another rocker, this is fun and rather trademark PH. There is a drum solo in the midst of this thing.
As Strong as Samson
A folk type song, this performance is good, but nothing all that special. I dig the organ sounds on this cut, though.
The Idol
The spoken story at the start of this gets a bit of a parental advisory. This cut works out after that to a strong performance of this number.
Butterfly Boys
Another high energy rocker, this is a strong performance.
A bouncy old fashioned groove, this is a fun cut. It also presents some definite variety.
Nothing but the Truth
Percussion brings this energetic rocker into being here. This is strong live telling of the cut.
New Lamps for Old
They close the set with this mellower tune, bringing it down nicely. The announcer talks too much at the start and ending of this.
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