Graham Central Station

Graham Central Station

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This promising 1973 album represents bass wizard Larry Graham's first post-Sly and the Family Stone work. Much like his previous band, Graham Central Station was a multiracial unit that blended soul grooves and pop hooks to create an exuberant hybrid. However, Graham Central Station gives Graham's bass work a more upfront role in the sound and adds further layers of rhythms with drum machines and rhythmic-sounding keyboards like the clavinet. The result is a disc that is equal parts pop-soul ("Ain't No Fun to Me") and funk ("We Be Gettin' Down"). The blend isn't as seamless as one might hope, which means some songs are stronger on groove then they are on melody: "Tell Me What It Is" has a great groove built on a seamless mix of thumping bass and throbbing drum machine, but lacks the melodic hooks necessary to make it a truly memorable song. Another problem is that the lyrics are underdeveloped in places: "People" rails against injustice but fails to point the finger at a specific cause, and "Why?" treads on too-familiar love lament territory. Despite these problems, Graham Central Station remains an engaging listen thanks to fine musicianship; even when the songs are lacking in hooks, there is an abundance of cool riffs and stellar vocal harmonies that will make funk fans smile. When this musicianship is applied to the right songs, the results are pure magic: "Hair" wraps a clever lyric about tolerance around a huge groove driven by one of Graham's serpentine basslines, and "Can You Handle It?" effectively fuses a pop melody built on a sing-along chorus to a propulsive bass/keyboard groove (it also became the group's first chart hit). In short, casual listeners may want to pick up this album's highlights on a compilation, but funk lovers will find plenty to enjoy on Graham Central Station.

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