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Hellbound Train
Savoy Brown

Parrot 71052
Released: March 1972
Chart Peak: #34
Weeks Charted: 21

Kim SimmondsSavoy Brown was once a resolutely typical British blues band. They could boogy an audience into submission in no time at all, and then keep them inert for what seemed like an eternity -- Savoy Brown was merciless. And in those days people seemed to love every interminable minute of it.

The new Savoy Brown is no longer tied to those endless, emotionless 12-bar boxes. Leader-guitarist Kim Simmonds, having surrounded himself with an entirely new crew of Savoys, now leads a rock'n'roll band. Anything would've been an improvement.

Savoy Brown - Hellbound Train
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The first evidence the group had a whole new thing was its last album, Street Corner Talking. Like its predecessors, that album had its share of dull moments, including a rendition of "Can't Get Next to You" that owed everything but its lifelessness to the Al Green arrangement. But it also had "Tell Mama," a track that literally towers over everything Savoy Brown has recorded. "Tell Mama" is one fine rock 'n' roll song; it possesses the perfect balance of formalized elements and inventiveness to make it roll like it was on tracks, the way great rock'n'roll always does. Savoy Brown would have been better off releasing "Tell Mama" as a single and burning the rest of the album.

This new one needn't be so destroyed. It contains nothing as good as "Tell Mama," but nothing as crummy as the rest of that album. Instead, the group has come up with a half dozen abundantly pleasant rock tunes. These owe more to Creedence than to Muddy or John Lee. There are a couple blues-infected songs, "Lost and Lonely Child" and "It'll Make You Happy," among the half-dozen, but they're not at all committed to the form for its own sake. There's even a gospel-style tune, "Troubled by These Days and Times," complete with feverish piano and shouting crescendo; it's hardly original, but it still comes off pretty well.

The best tunes are the three that are more strictly rock'n'roll, "Doin' Fine," "I'll Make Everything Alright" and "If I Could See an End," all economical, short, meticulously put together, and all showing a distinct spark of originality, a quality rarely in evidence in the Savoy Brown catalogue. On these tracks, Dave Walker's light, casual vocals and the band's trotting instrumental gait to form crisp, easy rock'n'roll that's not particularly strong in initial impact, but builds a cumulative appeal. These tunes sound less like Creedence, really, than like the English Creedences, Christie and Choshise. Remember "San Bernadino"? These songs are like that, particularly "Doin' Fine," a bouncy, happy, perfectly titled little song.

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This is a safe, low-keyed, enjoyable record through a side and a half. Then comes the title tune, an extended impressionistic piece. It tries to be dark, but it just gets murky. Its placement on the album makes "Hellbound Train" the obvious focal point, and that's too bad, because it's the least purposeful track on the album. All that intensity writhing within it with no place to go -- a classic case of much ado about nothing. Even if it weren't so serious in tone, there still wouldn't be enough going on musically to justify its nine-minute length. The comic strip that illustrates the theme on the inside cover treats it with a good deal more subtlety than Savoy Brown does.

Forget "Hellbound Train" and the album is a modest success by a pleasant-sounding band. "Pleasant" may not be such an impressive description, but it's a lot better than "deadly."

- Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 4-27-72.

Bonus Reviews!

Savoy Brown have carefully built up a hard-core following of loyal devotees who staunchly defend them as being the best of the British blues bands. Their latest album is dominated by an air of intensity and dark, insinuating rhythms. Excellent offerings include "Lost & Lonely Child," "Troubled By These Days and Times" and "Hellbound Train."

- Billboard, 1972.

Hellbound Train further stretches Kim Simmonds' blues bonds as he heads for a flashier rock and boogie sound. * * *

- Patrick McCarty, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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