From Shadow to Shadow

Review John Hall [UK]

"Tonight, Matthew, weíre going to be Procol Harum Ė all 71 of us Ö"

The Palers' Project is back, with another forty songs from the repertoire of Messrs Brooker, Fisher, Trower and Reid. From Shadow to Shadow brings together more than seventy different performers from five continents in a range of styles to re-interpret a second double-CD collection of Procol Harumís finest moments. "Ringmaster" Roland Clare and his American counterpart Gary Shepard are at the heart of this cosmopolitan ensemble blending close reworkings and startling reinterpretations of the familiar and not-so-familiar into a collection full of old friends and new surprises.

Whether or not Gary Brooker and co. will approve of all of the renditions in this collection is open to debate. Itís also beside the point. The Palers' Project should not be mistaken for a tribute band. To the best of my knowledge, none of the performers dressed up as monks or donned psychedelic shirts to make their contributions. Like the troubadours of old, they have heard the stories and retold them in their own way. This means that every track surprises. Voices and arrangements are unfamiliar Ė "Good grief! Thatís a woman singing!" Ė forcing us to rethink what we know and love, which isnít always comfortable. But it certainly works. Rather than note-, tempo- and mood-perfect reproductions of Procol Harumís greatest hits, the performers bring their own diverse backgrounds, styles and influences to the songs. Listen to the Latino reclamation of Conquistador from Conjunto Jardín or Sev Lewkowiczís ethereal A Salty Dog and youíll see what I mean: the hairs on the back of my neck are still standing.

There isnít a duff track on this collection, and this is largely thanks to the wide range of artists and genres included. The songs sound fresh, warm and much-loved, from Whisky Train to the Grand Finale, which more than lives up to its name.

According to the sleeve notes, the tracks were recorded in all sorts of places, from a studio to a room in a pub to somebodyís computer room. And hurrah for the new technology which allowed every instrument and voice to make its contribution from one end of hyperspace to another. The result truly is a virtual delight.

And if, like the crowd at Teatime At The Circus, you cannot see the joke, thatís fine. There are far too many musical allusions and references in this collection to take them all in after a single listen. I certainly havenít. But if youíre one of the many, many thousands across the world, from Alaska to Antarctica, who really do think that life is like a beanstalk, you could do far worse than invest in forty tracks by a happy band of minstrels, celebrating the work of another happy band of minstrels, who totally agree with you.

John Hall, Wolverhampton, England; 9 May 2004

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