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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Grand Funk Railroad

On Time

Review by Gary Hill

With On Time Grand Funk released a mixed bag of music. With the reissue, Capitol has added a couple of bonuses to sweeten the pot. The disc has some definite merit. First, the cut "Heartbreaker" is definitely one of the best the band ever recorded and should be a must have for any fan of '70's hard rock. Secondly there are some interesting, somewhat experimental pieces. Sure, one or two of those experiments might fail, but at least they tried, and sometimes succeeded. This album really gives an interesting take on a band that is quite often underestimated. Long live the Funk!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2002 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Are You Ready
The band's perennial opener, this one stomps in with a flourish. Overall it's a straight-ahead rocker designed to get you to your feet. Guitarist Mark Farner puts in couple typically tasty solos and some nice flourishes throughout. The outro here is particularly strong.
Anybody's Answer
Beginning with some rather unusual post psychedelic jamming, this gives way to a bluesy jam that has an almost jazzy texture. The cut is rather thoughtful and strong in a hippieish way. Its lyrical themes are definitely set in the '60's as well, with their themes of love and peace. The bridge is a slowly building balladic texture that once again features psychedelic leanings. The cut then shifts gear completely into a nearly metallic progression that is marred only by a somewhat annoying and persistent channel shift from left to right and back again. While I imagine this seemed cool at the time, it is a bit abrasive now. After this segment and all new jam ensues for a few moments, then the psychedelic returns. It is followed by a quick reprise of the main balladic theme, then a crescendo to end. This is one of the bands most creative cuts, even if it feels a bit dated today.
Time Machine
This is another that has always been a mainstay of the band's live show. It's a fairly stripped down blues jam. What it lacks in sophistication it makes up for in charm. This one, in keeping with its blues roots, includes a harmonica solo. For a bunch of white guys, GFR could put in a pretty convincing performance of the blues when they wanted to.
High On A Horse:
"Ain't no doctor can help the way I feel". With that opening line, this jam, another bluesy one, is on its way. Starting with those words and considering the title, it doesn't take much even without hearing the rest of the lyrics to know that its subject matter is heroin. The cut features a distorted, somewhat psychedelic guitar solo and some honky tonk piano.
T. N. U. C.
Another consistent piece of the GFR live repertoire, this one is pretty typical fare for the band, although at times it feel just a bit like Captain Beyond. As its centerpiece it features a drum solo that carries on far too long for this reviewer's tastes. When it comes out of that solo, a smoking jam ensues that absolutely stomps.
Into The Sun
This starts with an almost jazzy intro, then a rather dramatic guitar section enters. The bass joins in, and the band starts working it up in a way that is a little reminiscent of Steve Howe's band Tomorrow. After running through that vein and building on it for a time, a funky jam takes over to carry the verse. The chorus comes in in a fairly straightforward and mainstream way. The track then alternates between these two segments for a time. Then an intriguing and tasty bridge takes over in something that loosely resembles a jam band doing their take on early heavy metal. They follow that up by returning to the funky verse segment followed by another chorus. Wah pedal ends the piece.
Heartbreaker
Another GFR classic, this one comes in in an evocative near balladic style. The verses on the song are some of the cool not only that this band ever created, but in the genre. In fact, this cut, often overlooked, is truly one of the best GFR ever did. I dare anyone who thinks that Grand Funk was talentless to say that with a straight face while listening to this one. This song by itself is worth buying the CD. Farner puts down some exceptionally tasty guitar work on this one. In fact, I think that the guitar solo here can stand proudly alongside virtually anything from Eric Clapton or Ritchie Blackmore in terms of style. In typical GFR fashion, the cut erupts into a fast paced high-energy jam to outro. These guys really knew how to throw the left field twists into an otherwise straightforward song.
Call Yourself A Man
Speaking of left field, the opening riff on this track really has a quirky texture that calls to mind Frank Zappa a bit. With that riff recurring throughout the otherwise straight-ahead rocker, it becomes a slightly off kilter jam. The bridge is another definite left fielder. Although it is based off of that same opening riff, it feels just a bit like Peter Banks era Yes. This is another one for the GFR naysayers to try to discredit.
Can't Be Too Long
Coming in with drums barely punctuated with bass guitar, this one also has a strong '60's psychedelic texture at first. As the next section comes in with a crescendo it is in a triumphant, almost early progish vein. Unfortunately the cut does not maintain this level of inventiveness. It drops to a rather generic blues jam that just doesn't hold up very well. Still, the chorus segment punctuates the cut with that early prog leaning style. Another somewhat off kilter break takes the track for a short time, but the overall texture is more of the same.
Ups And Downs
At the outset this is a fairly straight-ahead and lackluster bluesy rocker. The cut rather quickly begins a series of definite left turns though. The first is a round of "row, row, row your boat". That is just the first in a series of quotes from other musical sources. The overall effect is of an experimental and intriguing composition, but it falls flat due to being disjointed and hard to follow. It is most likely one of the most inventive and unusual pieces GFR ever created, but it is just not extremely entertaining.
High On A Horse (Original Version) (Bonus Track)
This is definitely a rough demo. It is full of mis-takes leading to false starts in the intro. That makes for a different track, and allows for an interesting perspective, but I question if those false starts should have been included in the cut. Still, the track overall feels a bit rawer and more immediate than the final album version.
Heartbreaker (Original Version) (Bonus Track)
This is another recording of the killer number "Heartbreaker". It doesn't strike the listener as much different than the original, but with a song as strong as this one, two versions are definitely better than one.
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