Wednesday, 5 October 2016

"Second Birth" by GRAVY TRAIN (2016 Esoteric Recordings CD Reissue - Mark Powell Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Fields And Factories..."

Lancashire's hard rocking Progressive Rock act GRAVY TRAIN managed four albums across two labels between 1970 and 1973 including their debut "Gravy Train" on Vertigo 6360 023 in December 1970 (a listed £400 rarity), the follow-up "(A Ballad Of) A Peaceful Man" on Vertigo 6360 051 in November 1971 (now a £900 listing) and their final studio effort "Staircase To The Sky" in July 1974 on Dawn Records DNLH 1 (yours for a paltry £125.00).

This superb-sounding 2016 British CD reissue deals with their 3rd outing "Second Birth" from March 1973 - their first with England's second home to all things Prog Rock - Dawn Records. In fact excepting dodgy bootlegs and a rare deleted 2003 Japanese issue - this rather dull-looking album has long been unavailable on an official CD remaster - until now.

'Esoteric Recordings' (part of Cherry Red in the UK) have gained an enviable reputation amongst Prog, Avant and Electronic fans when it comes to quality remasters of long-forgotten but criminally overlooked goodies - as hip as say Ace Records or Rhino. And they've done the audio business on this one yet again. Here are the tales of fields and factories and Tolpuddle episodes...

UK released 30 September 2016 (7 October 2016 in the USA) - "Second Birth" by GRAVY TRAIN on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2562 (Barcode 5013929466241) is a straight CD transfer/remaster of their 3rd studio album from 1973 and plays out as follows:

1. Morning Coming
2. Peter
3. September Morning News
4. Motorway
5. Fields And Factories [Side 2]
6. Strength Of A Dream
7. Tolpuddle Episode
8. Second Birth
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 3rd studio album "Second Birth" - released March 1973 in the UK on Dawn Records and in the USA on Bell Records 1121. Produced by JONATHAN PEEL (not the British DJ) - all songs written by Barratt, Davenport, Hughes and Williams - it didn't chart in either country.

9. Good Time Girl - non-album B-side to the February 1974 UK 7" single of  "Starbright Starlight" on Dawn Records DNS 1058 - a track from their 4th LP "Staircase To The Sky"

NORMAN BARRATT - Lead Guitar and Vocals
J.D. HUGHES - Keyboards, Flute and Saxophones
BARRY DAVENPORT - Drums and Percussion on "Morning Coming", "Fields And Factories" and "Tolpuddle Episode"
RUSSELL CALDWELL - Drums and Percussion on all other tracks 

The striped-lines inner sleeve that graced the original Dawn Records gatefold is used as the centre-pages to the 16-page booklet - with the rear-sleeve images of three train carriages used as silhouettes behind the new MALCOM DOME liner notes. Featuring quotes from key band members Hughes and Williams and older quotes from founder member Norman Barratt – it’s an entertaining and enlightening read. But while the info is good - visually the booklet is dull like the naff artwork of the album over which it seems the band had no control. Looking as cheesy as it did with the stream-train puffs emanating from the 'i' in Gravy Train (spelt Gravytrain on the cover and on the sleeve but Gravy Train on the label) - is it any wonder the LP tanked. But the good news is a MARK POWELL Remaster that really rocks. The electric guitars in "Peter" and the Acoustic Guitars and Flute in "Fields And Factories" are all really clear and full of presence.

Sounding not unlike a less strangulated version of Roger Chapman from Family - Barratt takes the lead for "Morning Coming" - a typical Prog Metal number with layered vocals and clever breaks. "Peter" comes roaring at you with several guitars thrashing about the speakers - Gravy Train sounding like Uriah Heap having a Les Paul wig-out.  The acoustic "September Morning News" slows things down and you can hear how (like everyone else) they'd soaked up Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. "Motorway" ends Side 1 on a screaming ' hundred horse power of engine...' vocal where clever guitar, flute passages and harmony chorus have them sound like "This Was" Jethro Tull as they warn that endless construction will turn every meadow into endless criss-crossing highways. "Fields And Factories" opens Side 2 with more Acoustic vs. Electric interplay and you can get why Dawn thought "Strength Of A Dream" might make a decent single. Released June 1973 in the UK, Dawn DNS 1036 came with "Tolpuddle Episode" on the B-side but you'd have to say (as Dome does) that its slide guitar sound and those chunky 12-string strummed acoustics sound not unlike George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" from 1970. Prettier and more affecting is "Tolpuddle Episode" even if there is a slight harshness to the lead vocal - a tale of ordinary folk chucked into darkened cells to be deported to Australia's Van Diemen's Land. Back to Prog with the seven-minute title track "Second Birth" - probably the album's strongest showing of player virtuosity. The almost Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance English Jug Band shuffle of the non-album B-side "Goodtime Girl" comes as a pleasant surprise after all that laboured Prog and I'd swear that's Maggie Bell on the second female vocal?

You wouldn't call "Second Birth" anything other than ordinary (even plodding in places) - but if you've a penchant for GRAVY TRAIN and Seventies Progressive Metal - at least this 2016 Esoteric Recordings CD reissue sounds good and comes with expanded presentation...

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