Trace of a Feeling

John Hall [UK]

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the whisky train, the Palers are back with another compilation of oddities and soddities from across the world paying tribute to the words, music and genius of Procol Harum. Trace of a Feeling is the third double-album of re-readings Ė some more radical than others Ė of songs familiar and less so by this unlikely collective of fans and fellow travellers from all corners of our ever-diminishing globe, with the pardonable omission of Antarctica. One to aim for next time, folks?

Under the dedicated stewardship of Palersmeister Roland Clare (whose dextrous digits also seem to play everything but Hamlet), we are served with another auditory feast of the superb, the splendid and the simply strange: 42 tracksí-worth, in fact. Like every feast, of course, we all have our favourite bits (I always save the chillies until last), but this menu, at least in my humble opinion, contains ingredients of a consistently higher grade than even the preceding From Shadow to Shadow; and while thereís nothing quite as outstanding on this latest album as Conjunto Jardinís wonderful reworking of Conquistador, this may be down to the fact that the level of excellence on compilation #3 is generally much more impressive.

Youíve got everything here, from rock to country, pop to pipe organ, house to hip-hop, plus a strange piece of Zimmermania that will either delight you or drive you mad. In fact, the whole project is slightly insane really. As many Procol Harum devotees will declare passionately, how do you improve on perfection?

The answer is, of course, you donít. Like any storyteller, you hear a tale and you retell it in your own way, applying your own style, preferences and gifts. The familiar becomes unfamiliar (sometimes strikingly so) and while some of these interpretations may be Ė if you will pardon my choice of words Ė beyond the pale to some, others will discover new and refreshing insights into songs they thought they knew inside out. And thatís the whole point. Weíre not talking about a cover band in wigs, frilly shirts and cowls here, seeking to create a note-perfect recreation along the lines of the Hue, the Bleatles, Blue Floyd, Ted Zeppelin, U3, Go Way Sis or, heaven save us, Protocol Harem. This is a tribute by fans for fans, and perhaps even for the band themselves, who must surely be intrigued not only by these re-renderings of their work but also by why these people are doing it in the first place.

Among the many musicians who have lent their talents to this enterprise and sent their MP3s whizzing across the planet are one or two surprisingly familiar names: Geoff Whitehorn personally adds a typically blistering guitar solo to the Doubtful Guestsí Butterfly Boys, while the bass guitar on the Shepard Rockette Bandís All Our Dreams Are Sold is supplied by the legendary Magic Bandís Rockette Morton (and Iím wearing my trout mask as I write this). Even TV scientist and historian Adam Hart-Davis provides a voice over, supplying a splendid verdict for the Oakes Brothersí retelling of Nothing But the Truth and perhaps prefiguring his next BBC series What the Procols Did For Us.

I began writing about other individual tracks I really liked, but stopped after about 35. Basically, this is a hugely enjoyable collection performed by people who are obviously hugely enjoying themselves. Iím sure you will hugely enjoy it as well. You should tell your friends. In fact, you should make new ones just so you can tell them as well. Theyíll thank you for it. Itís fun, itís finely played and, finally, itís Ö erm Ö fought-provoking.

Donít let that last unforgivable line put you off. Trace of a Feeling is a joyful evocation of what being a music fan is all about. If you donít believe me (and why should you, seeing as weíve never met?), check out the individual mp3s here. This is an album with an awful lot of chillies in it.

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