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Caravan - Caravan CD (album) cover




Canterbury Scene

3.69 | 496 ratings

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4 stars This is among the most influential and important albums in the progressive rock canon, but more than that, it is just a damn good album. It is the confident, fully-assured work of a band that had already figured everything out and was primed to break new ground while still retaining enough of a psychedelic pop/rock influence to remain thoroughly listenable and enjoyable. As such, it stands as one of the greatest debut records in the history of prog, alongside Court and Gentle Giant (among others).

As this was released in 1968 it should surprise no one that the atmospheres here are quite psychedelic, and delightfully so. The record leads off with the band's first single, "Place Of My Own," penned by band leader and main creative force Pye Hastings. It has "classic" written all over it and rocks with powerful, paranoid vocals from Pye and some great keyboard work from my favorite keyboardist by far, David Sinclair. "Ride" is another superb psychedelic tune, featuring backing vocals with an echo effect that enhances the trippy-ness of the experience. According to Pye, this was a song written along the lines of contemporary works from the band Traffic, which he admired (as I do!).

Richard Sinclair's first song with Caravan, "Policeman," follows, and it is rather nice, with excellent backing vocals from Pye. Evidently Richard had not yet fully worked out his songwriting or vocals by this point, as the song is slightly underdeveloped (though superior to his other effort on this album, "Grandma's Lawn") and he sounds rather rough in tone. Pye follows this with the best, most memorable tune on the album, the absolutely gorgeous "Love Song With Flute." His vocals are achingly beautiful (as are the backing vocals which meld together perfectly) and the lyrics, like most on this album, are mystical while still remaining thoroughly understandable and heartfelt. The song's structure is also impeccable, with great keyboard breaks and a superb closing flute solo from Caravan's ever-valuable extra, Pye's older brother Jimmy.

"Cecil Rons" is among the most atypical Caravan creations ever, but there's a method to this madness and Pye balances the chaotic dissonance and wild screams (excellent use of his vocal chords for freak-out effect here) with a boisterous, involving chorus. Dave's freaky organ work towards the end is absolutely breathtaking. "Magic Man," the B-side to Caravan's first single, follows and is a simply gorgeous psychedelic ballad. Pye's highly distinctive vocals carry the tune but, as Richard Sinclair has remarked, the tune is truly elevated by Dave's inspired keyboard work elaborating on the chord progression. The harmony arrangements on the chorus are also superb.

"Grandma's Lawn, " as I mentioned earlier, is likely the only true weak point on the album although it does feature more of Dave's excellent work and a very nice ending with an unexpected melodic vocal passage. This brings us to "Where But For Caravan Would I," the band's first true prog epic and one of its greatest works. Co-written by Pye and former Wilde Flowers comrade Brian Hopper, it begins with a dreamy, wonderful first section with very fitting vocals and evocative lyrics, along with the first of two epic choruses. A powerhouse, mood-heightening,high energy jam follows with Dave leading the way, until some acoustic guitar chords slice in and give way to a verse sung wonderfully by Richard this time in his best vocal performance on the album. Pye comes in on the utterly involving chorus, and the two voices meld effortlessly as usual, each enhancing the beauty of the other. A couple wild roars later and the album ends with another memorable jam with a repeated minor chord from Dave to conclude matters in excellent fashion.

I have the 2002 remastered version of this album with both mono and stereo versions of every song, and although the sound of the original record may have been terrible the original recording was evidently just fine as this remaster from the original master tapes produces an excellent sounding album. In terms of whether the stereo or mono versions sound better, I'd say it differs track by track. "Place Of My Own" and "Magic Man" appear to sound better in mono, particularly the latter as the stereo version results in the echo effects drowning out the lead vocals. Almost all of the other songs sound a bit better in stereo in my opinion, as their trippy qualities are enhanced without overcoming the tunes. But opinions will doubtless vary.

Regardless, this is a must-have for anyone interested in the foundations of progressive rock, and for anyone interested in Caravan or good music in general! Though Caravan would better this effort in the years to come, this 1968 debut still presents quite clearly all the merits of this great band.

Stughalf | 4/5 |


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