Friday, October 2, 2015

Sea Train - 1969 - Sea Train

Sea Train 
Sea Train


01. Sea Train 4:07
02. Let the Duchess No 3:38
03. Pudding Street 4:55
04. Portrait of the Lady as a Young Artist 3:45
05. As I Lay Losing 4:55
06. Rondo 3:22
07. Sweet Creek's Suite 4:20
08. Outwear the Hills 4:40

Bass, Flute – Andrew Kulberg
Drums, Percussion – Roy Blumenfeld
Guitar, Vocals – John Gregory
Saxophone, Bass – Donald Kretmar
Violin, Strings – Richard Greene

This gets my vote for America's best progressive rock album of the 60s, hands down.  This was certainly the year for it, coming out alongside Chicago, The Flock, and Blood Sweat & Tears.  But there are big differences between those albums and this one.  First of all, looking across the ocean, Seatrain's structure resembled Yes more than any other band.  There was no one stand-out member (a la Flock) or a section that was clearly the focal point (i.e., Chicago and BS&T's horns).  The sound has a great deal of give and take between everyone in the band, making Sea Train a group effort similar to The Yes Album.  Another large difference between Seatrain and the aforementioned American bands is their lyrics.  Seatrain had a dedicated lyricist, Jim Roberts, whose lyrics were by and far more poetic than other bands', focusing on personal experience and wispy romance.  Making him, well, a very lyric lyricist, usually paired either with Kulberg or Gregory in songwriting.  Gregory had a warm tenor voice, but not a pure one, and engaged in what could be termed as "friendly, light shouting" when he gets louder ("As I Lay Losing").  At the same time, the band shied away from the long songs normally associated with progressive music.  Not that they lacked the musical talent to pull such tracks off, as one longer instrumental ("Sweet Creek's Suite") demonstrates.  Instead, their amazing arranging ability (only glimpsed on Planned Obsolescence) allowed them to stir in everyone's talent and create a fascinating montage.  What do they stir in?  While simple associations like Greene = bluegrass, Kretmar = jazz, Gregory = folk, Kulberg = classical, are tempting, they do not tell the whole story (like where blues comes in).  For everyone plays everything, and often.  Take the eponymous opening track, for example: an odd hybrid of classical, jazz and blues.  Welcome to America!  But this was Sea Train at their most English as well - with Kulberg's flute and some odd timing gives rise to another Jethro Tull comparison ("Pudding Street") and the hushed beauty of Gregory's "As I Lay Losing" echoing an organ-less Zombies before the beat really kicks in and Kretmar lets loose with a nice solo.  In fact, many of the classical lines have the feel of the Bach-like line inlain in the Zombies' "Beechwood Park."  Despite the music's blatantly American style, Sea Train is also rather English in that it is subtle.  It would have been easy to be overbearing with so many talented musicians around to make a mess of things, but this album has depth.  For example, the Gregory/Roberts song "Portrait of the Lady as Young Artist" is guitar based, but not overwhelmed by the guitar at all.  In fact, Sea Train's self-production is fairly light, with no blaring instruments, and the only electric instruments (guitar and bass) stripped of almost all their electric power.  Even Blumenfeld's drumming is an older style, much like Hugh Grundy was not a progressive rock drummer, and Ian McLane was not a hard rock drummer.  There are not any real production tricks either, only a fuzz tone attached here and there to guitar or violin.  All in all, sit back and let your ears wonder through the beauty, and wish that it would go on "forever more" as the record loops at the end.

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