Week of August 4, 2002

Gravy Train


Norman Barrett - vocals, guitar
Barry Davenport - drums
J.D. Hughes - woodwind, keyboards, vocals
Les Williams - bass, vocals
Russell Cordwell - drums
Jim Frank - drums
George Lynon - guitar
Pete Solley - synth
Mary Zinovieff - synth, violin

Gravy Train (Vertigo 6360 023) 1970
Ballad Of A Peaceful Man (Vertigo 6360 051) 1971
Second Birth (Dawn DNLS 3046) 1973
Staircase To The Day (Dawn DNLH 1) 1974
All reissued on CD by Repertoire (REP 4063-WP, 4122-WZ, 4164-WZ and 4133-WP respectively) 1991.

Strength Of A Dream/Tolpuddle Episode (Dawn DNS 1036) 1973
Starbright Starlight/Good Time Thing (Dawn DNS 1058) 1974
Climb Aboard The Gravy Train/Sanctuary (Dawn DNS 1115) 1975

Starting like your typical Vertigo act, Gravy Train's first album sounds faintly like early Jethro Tull, mainly due to similar flute lines, but without a dominating personality like Ian Anderson. Hard-rock riffing is alternated with more quiet and melodic moments and the flute is high in the mix throughout. The tracks are not at all "folky" as some dealers' lists describe them. Some of the music sounds like any old power trio. A nice track is "Dedication To Syd" (Barrett), a quiet but highly atmospheric experimental piece. Much better is the surprisingly rare second album for Vertigo. The solos are tighter and more controlled and the compositions are better. It is also less bluesy, very crisply produced and features good multi-part singing, greatly enriching their textures. They also try a track with a hook, the lovable "Home Again". Lack of commercial success drove them away from Vertigo and into the arms of Dawn, while gigging all over the country to create a following. The result, "Second Birth", is not very satisfying and actually sounds like a step backwards. Although more diversely arranged than either Vertigo album, the songs lack distinction and verve, making this sound like an attempt to please too many people simultaneously.

Their swansong, housed in a Roger Dean cover and with a revised line-up, starts with the very best cut they made, "Starbright Starlight", a blistering piece of melodious hard-rock, that sets the standard for similarly inclined music (though not many may have heard it, of course). The rest of the album isn't up to the same standard, but the title track with its Bach-derived intro and an unexpected foray into Greek folk, is good too. All in all, a band that plays well, but has too few original ideas to be of more than passing interest. 

(Marcel Koopman)
Taken from The Tapestry of Delights - The Comprehensive Guide to British Music of the Beat, R&B, Psychedelic and Progressive Eras 1963-1976, Vernon Joynson   ISBN 1 899855 04 1

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