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Gravy Train (1961)

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Ben Tucker

Gravy Train is a fine, if not quite exceptional record from Lou Donaldson's initial soul-jazz phase of the early '60s. Actually, given the title and the period in which it was recorded, the album isn't quite as greasy and funky overall as one might expect; most of the repertoire is devoted to pop ballads and mid-tempo standards, the latter of which tends to bring out more of the bop elements in Donaldson's playing. That's not true for the entire album, though; the title cut is a laid-back, conga-tinged, bluesy groover in the classic Donaldson mold, even if it's a bit workmanlike. Donaldson's longtime pianist, Herman Foster, is allotted quite a bit of solo space here, and he concentrates more on thick, rippling chords than single-note lines. For his part, Donaldson's playing is pleasant, and the rest of the supporting group maintains a steady groove throughout. All of Donaldson's sessions from this period (Here 'Tis, The Natural Soul, Good Gracious) have enough worthwhile moments for devoted fans, and that's true of Gravy Train as well, though casual fans probably won't find it necessary enough to track down. ~ Steve Huey