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Gravy Train - Staircase To The Day CD (album) cover

STAIRCASE TO THE DAY

Gravy Train

 

Heavy Prog

3.64 | 85 ratings

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steamhammeralltheway
3 stars Make that 2.67. The buzz on the street on Gravy Train's fourth album Staircase to the Day is that it represents the band's finest hour. I certainly do not think so and am prepared to explain why. In a nutshell, it is too funky, frolicking and diverse for my tastes. I prefer a rockier, more somber sound. This I found on Gravy Train's first album. That work has the additional advantage of weaving together unusual instrument combinations, strange moods and trippy jams, little of which surfaces on Staircase to the Day.

'Starlight Starbright' does have a rarified melody and a pageant of instrumental activity grooving in the background. I can't help finding the choruses of 'yeah' and the uttering of the words 'Starlight, starbright' corny. Yet on this track the band has made a considerable achievement; they have captured the spirit of Yes in a slightly harder, more driving fashion with a lower-register vocal. I actually have met Jon Anderson haters, who unlike devotees like myself, find his sweet countertenor sickening rather than angelic. (Even the best vocalists have their detractors; a few people find Bruce Dickinson annoying, as well.) Gravy Train's biggest claim to notoriety could very well be their uncanny ability to emulate Yes without parroting, not an easy feat.

On a couple tracks Norman Barrett's voice seems a bit gravelly and hoarse. This is just simply irritating. Furthermore some tracks seem lightweight and contrived. This is the case, for instance, on 'Bring my life on Back to Me.' Here liberal use of a piano contributes to a mood of frivolity. I have always thought piano is difficult instrument to integrate into prog. rock and rock and general. Beckett and Journey succeed marvelously in my estimate and Van der Graaf Generator founders miserably on 'The House with no Door,' especially in the context of H to He ' , where the ivory tinkling follows the 70 ton 'Killer.' 'Bring my Life back to Me' is almost as ridiculous. Too bad because its message is pretty grave, it appears from a peak I was finally able to take at the lyrics. 'Evening of my Life' here on Staircase to the Day is as piano saturated and no less odd.

Some tracks capture the blues-based escapades of the debut but don't fully reach that level of mood and nuance. 'Never wanted You' fits this description. 'Going for a Quick One' occasionally delivers a very juicy chord change or pattern but altogether is so funky to be dated sounding and with a completely overcooked vocal. 'The Last Day' reminds me of a lighter Grateful Dead 'Fire on the Mountain,' replete with an obnoxious vocal.

Some tracks like the title piece have the complexity, introspection and build of tension I look for in a prog. record. What gives, then? While Norman Barrett sings of 'haunting my days and night' and 'excursions of delight,' certainly what I would like to find here and almost do, there is a certain inexplicable hollowness about the whole enterprise. Obviously this is my opinion and may not be fair, but I feel obliged to report what I feel in my heart. A string-filled Moody Blues-like echoey symphonic, lacking the Moodies' depth just drives home the slightly empty feeling the title track gave me. Of course I am being extremely finicky here. By all measure 'Staircase to the Day' is a remarkable, intricate epic, the likes of which most bands would be pressed to achieve. In this review I try to balance the objective and subjective. Gravy Train brews up a cauldron of spellbinding instrumental magic in the jam following the main theme of 'Busted in Schenectady.' The first part of this song is the whimsical musical throwaway I have come to expect from this album after the several largely uninspired cuts. Then suddenly at the eleventh hour, this record goes places and how! And just when it's getting good and really grooving, it ends! The band could have ran with that rollicking vibe another couple minutes.

steamhammeralltheway | 3/5 |

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