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Baker Gurvitz Army

Since Beginning: The Albums 1974-1976

Review by Gary Hill

This brand new three-CD set is all class. It gathers together the three studio albums from Baker Gurvitz Army released from 1974-1976, but you probably get that from the title. There is quite a range of sound from one to the next, but it always seems like the same band. I've landed this under progressive rock because two of three albums are more or less prog (and I've reviewed those two individually under that heading, too), but not everything here is progressive by any means.

The set itself comes in a nice clamshell box. Each disc comes in its own sleeve, like a mini-album cover. The second CD is even a gate-fold. In addition to Ginger Baker, this group includes Adrian and Paul Gurvitz as the core band on all three discs. Other musicians vary from CD to CD. This also includes a nice booklet to complete the set.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
CD One: The Baker Gurvitz Army 1974
                
Help Me

This enters with a swirling kind of arrangement that has a real prog rock intensity to it. The vocals sound like Kevin Cronin's work in REO Speedwagon a bit. Musically this isn't that far removed from that, but there are some definite prog rock tendencies built into the cut. This has some smoking hot energy and great hooks.

Love Is

The opening jam here is hard rocking and has plenty of quirky prog rock shifts and changes. This instrumental is a real scorcher.

Memory Lane
Psychedelia merges with progressive rock on this killer piece. It's a hard rocking tune with plenty of cool shifts and changes. Baker gets a drum solo in the midst. The cut shifts to jazzier stuff as it comes out of that solo.
Inside of Me
There are definitely things here that feel a lot like Cream. The tune has a mix of jazz and psychedelia at its heart. This thing is so classy. The drumming is on fire, too. This has some killer musical textures and changes. It's really such a great song. In fact, it's one of my favorites here.
I Wanna Live Again
This is more of a soulful, rock and roll based tune. Female backing vocals add to that concept. It's the least proggy thing here, but it works well.
Mad Jack
There is a real chugging powerhouse prog element to this. It has a blues rock vibe, too. This is another with definite echoes of Cream in the mix. The energy and groove on this are so cool. Baker has some spoken vocals on this tune. They lend something really cool to the piece. There is a dropped back movement mid-track featuring those vocals that brings a definite psychedelic prog sound. It almost makes me think of Nektar a bit.
4 Phil
Now, this instrumental is another cut without a lot of progressive rock in it. This is more of a blues rocker. It's quite tasty.
Since Beginning
Trippy atmospherics start things here. Ginger Baker's drums rise up as it carries forward. The rest of the band join and we're off in style. Psychedelia, folk rock and prog are all on display here. The instrumental break later really has a proto-prog edge to it with some cool exploration. There is some killer guitar interplay, and the closing bit has a great psychedelic edge. At almost eight-minutes, the tune is an extended one.
Bonus Track
        
Memory Lane (Live)

I'd say that the prog edge is even more pronounced on this live version of the cut from the studio album. It has some great keyboard tones and a lot of energy. Baker's solo here seems to be more intense than the one on the studio album. It's definitely extended, too. In fact, this is a little more than double the length of the studio version. A lot of that comes from the drum solo. I have to admit (as I have in other reviews) that I'm not a big fan of drum solos, this gets a bit tedious for me. Your mileage may vary. The acapella sing-along section that comes after that is cool. They power it back out into the song proper in fine fashion from there.

CD Two: Elysian Encounter 1975
                
People

Drums open things here. The guitar fires in with a fast paced proggy styled jam that's very cool. They work out into something that's energetic and has a bit of a funk edge. As the vocals join, 70s rock is at the heart of this. It's proggy, but also has some definite psychedelic edges to it. It's a powerhouse rocker, particularly later. While a lot of this is a drum showcase, it's not at the detriment of the song.

The Key

The guitar that opens this has a bit of a blues rock vibe to it. There is a funky sort of groove at play, too. I can make out some real hints of early Santana on this for some reason. The groove on this is so cool.

Time
Baker gets a spoken vocal on this number, too. The cut has a real psychedelic vibe to it. It reminds me of what you might get if you merged Blind Faith with Captain Beyond. This is such a classy tune. It's one of my favorites of the whole set.
The Gambler
I'm reminded of Blind Faith again on this bluesy rocker. There are definitely psychedelic and prog edges to this along with some Beatlesesque elements at play.
The Dreamer
That Blind Faith kind of vibe is all over this tune, too. It has psychedelia along with catchy blues based rock. I love the guitar fills on the tune. The whole thing is cool.
Remember
Now, they bring the progressive rock back home to roost with this powerhouse. It has some of that Blind Faith concept. It also has some of that early Santana thing at play. The powerhouse jamming, though, turns decidedly progressive rock oriented and soars toward fusion at times.
The Artist
The bluesy rock of Cream and Blind Faith are well represented here, along with psychedelia. This gets into some proggy territory as it marches forward, though. It's another killer hard rocker on a disc that's full of them.
The Hustler
I love the smoking hot guitar riff that drives this thing. The cut has more of a blues rock vibe, but I swear I can hear hints of Gentle Giant on this. It manages to be proggy at the same time it shows off those Cream leanings. There is some powerhouse guitar work built into this thing, and it's packed full of energy. They take it into some jazz zones further down the road, too.
Bonus Tracks
            
People (Live)

This powerhouse jam works so well in this live performance. The proggy elements seem to be intensified here. The instrumental section is a real powerhouse.

Freedom (Live)

The groove on this is soulful. The cut has some prog elements at play, but overall has a real funky texture. It makes me think of Stevie Wonder just a little. This jam is very cool. I dig the retro keyboard sounds on it.

CD Three: Hearts on Fire 1976
            
Hearts on Fire

This is fierce blues rock. The guitar is on fire. So is the vocal performance. There are definitely Hendrix like elements here. This is one of my favorite cuts of the whole set. It's just so intense.

Neon Lights
Coming across a bit like Eric Clapton meets Robin Trower, this has a lot of Cream elements built into it. It's another potent blues rocker, and a classy tune. The guitar soloing on this is so cool, too. That wanders toward psychedelia at times. There are some proggy overlayers that emerge at one point.
Smiling
A cool rocker, this isn't anything Earth-shattering, but it is tasty. It is another that sounds like something Clapton would do.
Tracks of My Life
This is a pretty and melodic piece of music. It has a lot of powerful emotion and spirit to it. The female vocals bring it into some soulful zones. This is a ballad, and a potent one at that.
Flying in and Out Of Stardom
This makes me think of the Rolling Stones when it opens up. It has a cool blues rock meets psychedelic vibe. It's fast paced and meaty. There is a raw edge that works so well.
Dancing the Night Away
Keyboards bring this in with hints of prog rock. As it grows outward from there, though, this has an almost disco sound to it. It's meatier and more rocking than that implies, but the rhythm section here definitely has a lot of disco in it. The strings add to that impression, too.
My Mind Is Healing
Imagine what Cream might have sounded like if they were making music in the 1970s. You are pretty close to what this song sounds like. It's a smoking hot hard rocker with a great energy and classic sounds. While this isn't hugely unique, it is very well done. It's a highlight of the set.
Thirsty for the Blues
I dig the piano that opens this. As the other instruments join in a slow moving, mellow arrangement, this takes on a real jazz-oriented vibe. Sure, it's a blues tune, but it is set within a jazz arrangement. It's also so classic. This is another highlight of the set.
Night People
Not a big change, this is another bluesy rocker. It's a solid tune with some good hooks. It works quite well.
Mystery
Another killer hard rocker, this is very much what you expect from the 1970s. That's not a bad thing, though. It's very well done within that general zone. It has some solid vocal hooks and killer guitar work.
Bonus Track
               
Wotever It Is (Live)

Another cool blues rock grove, this makes me think of Jefferson Starship just a bit. It's a cool live number, and a great bonus track. It has some proggy jamming later on in the piece. They really work it out into a smoking hot jam.

 
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