In the age of the singer-songwriter, the lyricist has become a rare creature (outside of musical theater). Yet some of the greatest rock acts of all time had one member or partner who wrote just the words. Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Bernie Taupin, and the Grateful Dead's Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow are just a few of the famous lyricists of rock and pop.
Keith Reid is and always has been the lyricist for Procol Harum, responsible for classic songs like "Conquistador," "A Salty Dog," and of course the eternal "A Whiter Shade of Pale." Though it's been many years since Procol Harum's heyday, the band has continued to tour and release new material over the decades, and Reid has also collaborated with numerous other luminaries. It's about time for a Keith Reid Project.
This disc collects thirteen of his non-Procol songs, co-written with big names of pop music like John Waite, Manfred Mann's Chris Thompson, Terry Reid, and Steve Booker (who co-wrote Duffy's recent #1 hit, "Mercy"). Given the variety of collaborators, and vocals from singers as diverse (though all male) as Waite, Southside Johnny, and Bernie Shanahan, it's no surprise that the disc is uneven in style in quality. But there's plenty to like.
Reid and Thompson's "You're the Voice" is a powerful, shimmering mini-masterpiece of sleek pop with a message. (The song was a huge hit for John Farnham in Australia and elsewhere 20 years ago.) "The Heartbreak House" nods towards Americana, as does the folky, haunting "Potters Field" with music by Michael Saxell. "Ninety-Nine Degrees in the Shade" grooves with swampy soul under Southside Johnny's gravelly vocals. Terry Reid gives "Too Close to Call" a touch of Al Green's spirit, while "In God's Shadow" is a strong mid-tempo rocker featuring Waite in an Eagles-like, seventies-style arrangement.
Other songs fare less well. "Venus Exploding" drowns in overwrought 80s-style "St. Elmo's Fire" production, and the title track fizzles out like a Randy Newman throwaway. All Chris Thompson's emoting can't raise the power ballad "It Might Be Your Heart" above average, though one can imagine a generic r&b singer having a hit with it.
"Silver Town" is a good one. Co-written with and sung by Booker, it evokes acoustic Springsteen in populist mode: "We built this town from a grain of sand / Far away from the reach of Washington / Now they say they need the land / And bite the hand that feeds the greed of Washington…." but "though the money's all run out / There's a wealth of folk in Silver Town." The closing song, "Right About Now," looks back ruefully on a lost relationship and demonstrates, as well as any, Reid's lyrical gifts: "Right about now you'll be waking / And making your breakfast / In the cold grey light of dawn / And right about now you'll see my letter / The one that tells you that I'm not coming home."