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Gravy Train - (A Ballad Of) A Peaceful Man CD (album) cover


Gravy Train


Heavy Prog

3.55 | 90 ratings

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Psychedelic Paul
5 stars GRAVY TRAIN were an English melodic prog band, established in St. Helens, Lancashire in 1969. The band never quite managed to make it onto the gravy train of success with their four studio albums. Their eponymous debut album "Gravy Train" (1970) had a heavier sound than the album reviewed here. This second album "(A Ballad of) A Peaceful Man" (1971) features lush string arrangements and is widely regarded to be their best album. Gravy Train followed it up with two further albums:- "Second Birth" (1973); and "Staircase to the Day" (1974). This fourth and final album with a new producer was highly- rated, but sadly, the band decided to call it a day after becoming demoralised when their precious music equipment was stolen from the back of their van. Such are the harsh realities of the music business - an unforgiving world of dashed hopes and broken dreams.

This is an album of two halves - just like a game of soccer - with the three big romantic ballads grouped together on Side One and all of the powerful heavy rockers on Side Two. "Alone in Georgia" is a tremendous album opener. It's a really big production number that Phil Spector would have been proud of, featuring lush strings and rich orchestration with the bereft singer passionately pouring his heart out over his lost love, in true romantic balladeer style. This emotionally-rich and powerful ballad is a resonant Wall of Sound that really tugs at the heartstrings with its impassioned and melodramatic lyrics:- "Left me alone in Georgia, Left me alone inside a city, Why did she go without saying, Why did she leave without a goodbye?" ..... You'd need a heart of stone not to moved by this rousing romantic rhapsody. And now we come to the title track "Ballad of a Peaceful Man", opening to the sound of a flirtatious flute and sweeping strings. This is no gentle ballad though. This is a surging and passionate power ballad that emerges into a sonorous symphony of sound with a powerful anti- war message contained within the lyrics:- "Every time I look upon the market square, There's a monument erected to the dead who fell in war, Pardon me for crying, But I've seen the sight before, I hope it never comes again, Make your mind up, It's our only chance, To live in peace or set the world alight, Alight, yeah!" ..... Amen to that! Make Love, Not War. It's a stark reminder that this song was written at the height of the Cold War, when the fate of the world was very much in the balance. The third song "Jule's Delight" really is a delight to listen to. It's a gorgeous flute-driven melody floating on a symphony of sensational strings. This dramatic music might not quite reach the sublime heights of "Nights in White Satin" or a "Whiter Shade of Pale", but it's a marvellously-rich, mellifluous melody that's best listened to at night between silken sheets of pale satin - preferably with a romantic partner for company.

The opening song on Side Two, "Messenger", is very reminiscent of Jethro Tull. It's a proggy and playful flute-driven song but with a powerful anti-war message contained within the lyrics:- "Messenger swift, Won't you tell me the words that you carry, Stop for a moment and lie with me, I pray you'll tarry, Five more young men who'll never be able to marry, How long will this war last before you die too? Before you die too?" ..... The sound of the flighty flute in the opening brings to mind the merry minstrel Ian Anderson standing on one leg with flute in hand, but it's really another dark tale about the horrors of war. Don't get too downhearted though, because there's a splash of vivid psychedelic colours in a wild and unrestrained fuzz-toned guitar jamboree for the golden grand finale. The next song, "Can Anybody Hear Me?", is a raucous out-and-out rocker with the raspy-voiced singer giving it his all. Everyone can hear him sing this song, including the neighbours, if you play this music LOUD like it's meant to be played. Again, the music sounds like Jethro Tull, but this is Jethro Tull given a burst of high-energy, foot-stomping adrenalin. This is heavy-duty rock wearing Doc Marten boots, a hard hat and a yellow fluorescent jacket. Next up is "Old Tin Box" which rattles nicely along like..... an old tin box. It's an upbeat and up-tempo Jazz-Rock number featuring the soaring sound of a saxophone. The steady rhythmical beat is redolent of a train rattling down the tracks, so make way because this is no gravy train - this is more like an unstoppable diesel locomotive going full speed ahead. There's no let-up either for "Won't Talk About It", because this is another hard-rocking song with a take-no-prisoners attitude. It's raw and aggressive Blues-Rock where the singer sounds like he's had a bad day, but he doesn't want to talk about it, so stay out of his way. There's no doubt about it, "Won't Talk About It" is the heaviest song on the album by far. Think of Deep Purple with a flute, and that's the powerful song we have here. We're "Home Again" now for the final song on the album, which has something of a tribal native American rhythm to it, so it might just be time to get out the peace pipe and do a rain dance before returning "Home Again" to the comfort of the wigwam for the evening.

Gravy Train have really surpassed themselves with this marvellous melange of music, featuring big romantic orchestral numbers on Side One and hard and heavy rockers on Side Two. Their first album was pretty good, but they've gone one better with this album by incorporating some lovely sweeping string arrangements, giving the music a rich orchestrated fullness. This superb second album should have put them on the gravy train to success, but sadly, it wasn't to be. They were just one of many promising British prog bands who fell by the wayside in the early 1970's, but on a brighter note, they stuck around just long enough to record four great albums, which have now been given a new lease of life thanks to the modern wonder of the Internet.

Psychedelic Paul | 5/5 |


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