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Gravy Train

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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!

This group put out their first two albums on the great Vertigo label and is a typical release from this progressive label from those years. While not a full-blown progressive band as they have a more psychedelic feel, this is one of those proto-prog album that comes along with a fuzz guitar and no keyboard.

It does contain many elements you might expect on a psychedelic rock band with heavy progressive influences (it even has a long pieces Dedicated to Sid? Self-explanatory is it not?), along with some lengths in the solo dept (dare I say a little self-indulgence or half-jams?), but it has delicious flutes and good interplay between all members. The singer has one of those voices that can set you back as it is a bit aggressive but should not deter you if you are into VdGG, Audience or Gnidrolog. My personal faves of contains New One, Sid, Enterprise, and Think Of Life.

A promising debut album, but nothing groundbreaking either (and therefore not essential), their first two albums are a sure hit with the hippy-jam rock crossed over with great prog overtones

Report this review (#30850)
Posted Thursday, June 17, 2004 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Gravy train are the forgotten Progressive rock artists of the 70's. Their debut album is incredible. Yes a kind of mixture between Jethro Tull and Traffic but with their own unique style. Norman Barrett is the driving force called Gravy Train and certain track like ' The New One' ' Dedication to Syd' and ' Earl of Pocket Nook' are underrated to say the least. Barrett also has a distinctive vocal style quite unlike anyone else I have heard before. This album is highly recommended to anyone who has not heard Gravy Train before and serves as the correct introduction to the band. If you like this then you will also like their next three releases.
Report this review (#30851)
Posted Friday, July 30, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Oft overlooked prog beauty debut album from Manchester's GRAVY TRAIN. Like their classic 2nd and 3rd albums ("Ballad Of A Peaceful Man" and "Staircase To The Day" and) this debut album teeters on the fantastic fret work of Norman Barratt. Fans of JETHRO TULL will love this album as it is completely saturated with the heavy storming flute playing of J.D. Hughes. Overall this album is a ton more Psychedelic in character than their later albums but that is exactly what gives this one all its charm. GRAVY TRAIN's debut album is really a clash of both blues and prog rock making this a wonderfully original album to sort your way thru. Barratt's vocals are deep and gruff but fitting to the mood of the music which never really sits still. A superb album.
Report this review (#52864)
Posted Saturday, October 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars With a blues-rock basis and a hard rocking sound that related them to other great British proto-prog bands such as Beggar's Opera and Warhorse, Gravy Train allowed themselves to be prog via the introduction of complex structures and arrangements for their compositional ideas: a big influence is Jethro Tull as it was during the latest 60s, a mandatory mention indeed, but there is also the influence of Traffic, both of them recycled with a slightly harder edge despite the featured role that J. D. Hughes' sensational flute inputs. That's what you can expect from their 1970's eponymous debut album. While the blues thing still bears an obvious presence (check out 'Coast Road' and the sung parts of 'The New One'), the band shows that they can create very good progressive music in pieces such as 'The New One', 'Dedication to Sid', 'Enterprise' (which is, by the way, my personal fav) and the robust 16 minute long closer. 'Dedication to Sid' provides a certain aura of psychedelic fun amidst the exhibition of rocking power and prog-fashioned complexity. 'Enterprise' is the gem of the album, alternating carefully composed passages and aggressive jamming in a solid manner: Hughes manages perfectly well to keep his flute interventions from getting drowned by the storming guitar in the middle section. The long closing track can be described as a recapitulation of all three musical sources that Gravy Train has been handling throughout the preceding repertoire: blues-rock, psychedelic hard rock and prog. The odd time signatures and crafty tempo shifts that take place here and there are firmly sustained by drummer Barry Davenport, who uses his jazz-friendly sensibilities for good effect. Being as it is the most recurrent wind instrument in the group's sound, Hughes does not limit himself to it, but he also plays some damn good saxophones (alto and tenor): every time it appears, the sax turns out to be an adequate complement to Norman Barrett's guitar riffs and leads, especially on the bluesier side of GT's music. Track 5, titled 'Think of Life', is the most lively and least demanding piece in the repertoire, something more focused on typical early 70s hard rock with a psychedelic touch. While not a master opus, Gravy Train's eponymous album proves a more than worthy item for any good prog collection. This work shouldn't be as overlooked as it usually is, but again, we can rely on that any genuinely devoted prog collector will be able to appreciate "Gravy Train" as it deserves.
Report this review (#58062)
Posted Saturday, November 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars The first work released in 1971 "Gravy Train". There are a lot of unique sounds, and the content greatly stepped forward from the bluse rock. Music is rich in variety, and the performance is high the density. Fine work of art rock. Excellent addition to any prog music collection. Four stars.
Report this review (#61710)
Posted Sunday, December 25, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Gravy Train's self-titled debut is a compelling slab of late 60s progressive blues-rock. Defined mainly by the fabulous flute of J.D. Hughes and the theatrical vocals of Norman Barrett, this record will remind you of early Jethro Tull (that first incarnation in which Anderson and Abrahams tussled for control of the band). Whether one deems it an essential part of the prog adventure will indeed depend on whether one has just a passing interest in, or is thoroughly fascinated by, the raw experiments in music making that foreshadowed prog rock's golden age.

After taking a moment or two to get into stride, The New One explodes into an eerie jazz-inflected extravaganza, "Tell me where you're going" screams Barrett, and believe me, you'll want to know. Dedication To Syd may conatain a Pink Floyd reference in its title, but while it takes a few journeys from flute-driven blues-rock to Traffic-style psychedelia, none of it is particularly Floydian, least of all Barrett's vocals which sound like an audition for a part in Jesus Christ Superstar!

The leaden blues of Coast Road is the weakest track here, and even some nice fuzz guitar colouring doesn't make up for the lack of ideas. Thankfully, the fun resumes with the psychedelic swirls of Enterprise, which suddenly becomes a real dark stomping track. Think Of Life too starts off with a riff of monstrous power and allure, but loses its way just a tad as the song stretches out. Ultimately though, the album's "prog-quotient" probably hinges on the closer Earl Of Pocket Nook which runs for over 16 minutes. It's an exciting, oft-ramshackle hard rocking stew, in which Barrett's guitar and Hughes' sax (he occassionally plays simultaneous alto and tenor!) take turns to lead the parade, but despite the shifting moods, the end result is often "just" improvised blues-rock and as such, is unlikely to be everyone's cup of tea.

Indeed, to many this record will bear the dated feel of the late 60s progressive blues scene but therein lies its allure as far as yours truly is concerned. It's certainly not the most crucial stop one can make ... Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, The Nice, East Of Eden and Colosseum all made more exciting proto-prog records, but this isn't bad at all. ... 62% on the MPV scale

Report this review (#71068)
Posted Saturday, March 4, 2006 | Review Permalink
2 stars Pretty straight-forward guitar-and-flute orientated prog-rock that doesn't sound unlike Jethro Tull and features some seriously shredded vocals from the groups founder, leader, guitarist and main singer Norman Barrett. To cut a long story short, Gravy Train were a Lancashire rock group who released their eponymous debut in 1970. It failed to make a significant impact on the charts, but did give the group enough space to record three more studio albums that covered the same musical ground as this energetic-yet-hardly original slice of rocky prog. A lot of Gravy Train's appeal depends on whether you can dig Barrett's screeching vocals, and for those that can there are some small rewards to be had, especially in the album's lengthy closing number 'Earl Of Pocket Nook' and in the impressive flute-playing of J.D. hughes on the mid-tempo rocker 'Coast Road'. However, when compared to the prog era's big beasts like Genesis, Yes or Pink Floyd, Gravy Train seem very tame. Enjoyable, but hardly essential. STEFAN TURNER, LONDON, 2010
Report this review (#282826)
Posted Thursday, May 20, 2010 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars GRAVY TRAIN came out of Manchester, England and this is their debut from 1970.They are very much a guitar / flute driven jam band with pretty good vocals. One song is straight-up Blues but the rest are of the psych / jam style. Not a fan of the album cover at all.

"The New One" is my favourite. It kicks in with a beat along with guitar and flute rather quickly. A calm with flute before 1 1/2 minutes then the drums arrive as it kicks back in. Some choral effects then vocals 2 1/2 minutes in. Catchy stuff.The flute replaces the vocals around 4 minutes. "Dedicated To Sid" and i'm thinking it's not Barrett either. A flute / drum intro before it changes and picks up around a minute with vocals.There are some vocal effects here that make him sound like one of the chipmunks. Not a fan at all. Flute and guitar 3 minutes in when the vocals stop. A silent calm 4 1/2 minutes in then it slowly comes back to life. A beat builds late as the flute joins in to end it.

"Coast Road" is the Blues track and it's a lot of fun.Vocals after 4 minutes as it settles. It picks back up to the end when the vocals stop. "Enterprise" is led by the flute and drums early on.Vocals around a minute as the sound changes.The tempo picks up when the vocals stop. It turns heavier with vocals later. "Think Of Life" turns heavy quickly with flute.Vocals before a minute as the heavy guitar continues.The tempo picks up as it lightens some. "Earl Of Pocket Nook" is simply a 16 minute jam and I like it.The tempo shifts occassionaly and the vocals come and go. Some nice bass after 14 minutes as well.

I have to agree with Hugues on the 3.5 stars. I do like this but it's not without it's faults and limitations. Good album though.

Report this review (#349533)
Posted Friday, December 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars Not a goldmine.

In the seventies Gravy Train are one of the bands of the British underground scene. This album, their debut and one of the pieces of Vertigo catalog, is in my opinion an average record and nothing more.

There is nothing particularly innovative in this album and sounds are typical of other blues/rock bands of the same period with heavy guitars, flute and sax and a few keyboards. The style reminds a bit other bands like Catapilla , East Of Eden, and early Tull, but the results are not the same.

In particular the long jam Earl Of Pocket Nook, in my opinion, is particularly tedious. In this track the attempt to create new sounds leads the band in the wrong direction, and soon the confusion prevails over everything else: the result is a song full of experimentation for its own sake, totally incoherent and inorganic, a bit noisy, without musicality and harmonies. The raw blues Coast Road and the mediocre Think Of Life do not increase the overall quality of this work.

Things go better with the other tracks: Enterprise, a song with exotic mood, with flute, sax, guitars and filtered voices, very reminiscent of the style of early East Of Eden. The New One is the most enjoyable song of the album, featuring beautiful harmonies and a delicate flute interlude. Dedication To Syd has good rhythmic variations and strange choruses in tone, however, with the atmosphere of the song.

Another thing that I find very hard to digest is the voice of the singer and leader Norman Barrett. Surely his voice does not leave indifferent: you love it or you hate it, without compromise. Personally I find that Barrett exceed in emphasis when interprets the lyrics, and this happens especially in the slower tracks where it would require a more measured approach (and this is even more evident in "A Ballad Of A Peaceful Man", the band's second album ).

If you are interested in the underground scene of 70s British music, I suggest you first listen to other bands, such as T2, High Tide, Catapilla, Tonton Macoute and East Of Eden.

Final rating 4/10.

Best song: The New One

Report this review (#770015)
Posted Wednesday, June 13, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars MAKE THAT 4.5 STARS, I only recently found out about Gravy Train but have been quite impressed. This debut is a masterpiece. From the opening strains, it is a cavalcade of catchy riffs, blues and rich instrumentation. 'The New One' features ample flute and several sections: never a dull moment. The moodier 'Dedication to Sid' dishes up of course the trademark flute but also fuzz guitar, tribal drums and a pensive vocal. The only detracting factor is vocal overdubs in an annoying extreme falsetto. The flute and guitar interplay and get both psychedelic and soulful on this track. Then the song takes off on a spacy journey where the drum assumes a heartbeat style and guitar feedbacks, later building to crescendo with the expressive flute.

'Coast Road' is a bonafide blues track, but far more engaging than most blues numbers because it's anchored by flute and fuzz guitar -- not your typical blues instruments for sure, and ones to add much texture and depth to this tried and true musical form. Later on the song becomes more cookie cutter and rambly with the addition of harmonica and lack of any new motifs to move it beyond the blues formula. And the band insists on droning on over six minutes for no clear reason. A soaring and fluid sax does furnish some additional focus. The amateurish sounding vocal enters briefly late in the song and very well could have been omitted altogether for better effect.

'Enterprise' along with 'Think of Life' are the album's most memorable songs. Laughter and snippets of conversation near the beginning of "Enterprise" lay down a playful mood. This counterbalances the forceful and intense main theme on flute and drums. This very tight jam well contrasts to the introspective, thumping vocal theme. Though some will undoubtedly find the lyric forced, to me it's so hyperbolic as to be sublime, a case of the cheesier the better. Not easily dismissed is the perfect proggy flute accents. And I want to praise the vocals a little more: the delivery is superior to anything on the album. A later much darker vocal bridge illustrates singer Norman Barrett's versatility. A lengthy very intense flute solo interwoven with the darker vocal takes things to new heights.

'Think of Life' begins with similar vocal silliness to 'Enterprise.' This one is a pounder, very enjoyable if the lyric only wouldn't get insipid in spots. But 'Think of Life' levitates towards the stratosphere in the middle and never lets up until it's completely out of sight.

The final track, 'Earl of Pocket Nook' very skillfully walks a line between lightheartness and wistful melancholy. The vocal aids this unusual mood. Again the flute and fuzz guitar are the perfect implements to relay this adventure in sound. This track oozes '60s hippiedom. The vibe is just a touch retro. Soloing makes the most use of Hughes' bluesy saxes than any of the prior tracks. 'Earl of Pocket Nook' is the longest number on the album, and time is used wisely. Things start getting weird past the six minute mark with the sax on a never-ending but much variegated solo. Ethnic drums and flute punctuate an instrumental escapade, bringing to mind Nik Turner's sage words that music is the real drug. Who would need to be chemically enhanced under the influence of something as mind-expanding as this album!? The Gravy Train debut is truly a far out trip.

Report this review (#1938792)
Posted Wednesday, June 13, 2018 | Review Permalink

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