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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Caravan: Cool Water

CARAVAN: COOL WATER (1977; 1994)

1) Cool Water; 2) Just The Way You Are; 3) Tuesday Is Rock And Roll Nite; 4) The Crack Of The Willow; 5) Ansaphone; 6) Cold Fright; 7) Side By Side; 8) You Won't Get Me Up In One Of Those; 9) To The Land Of My Fathers; 10) Poor Molly; 11) Send Reinforcements.

I do realize that a «from-the-vaults» release of an entire album that was originally deemed unfit for release by Caravan's record label at a time of general decline for Caravan is hardly going to be exciting news for the non-diehard fan. But yes indeed, after the critical and commercial failure of Better By Far, Caravan did record a second album for Arista, scheduled for release in 1978; and Arista did reject it, shelving the tapes for more than 15 years, before Pye got hold of them, dusted them off and released them pretty much as they were, on a minor label. And the most surprising thing about it is — Cool Water is, by all means, «better by far» than Better By Far, or, for that matter, anything else that Caravan did in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Actually, if I am correct, only the first seven tracks here really come from the promised album; the surprisingly short length (32 minutes) is explained by the fact that the release only gives us the compositions by Hastings, leaving out a few contributions by Richard Sinclair — who did, as it turns out, temporarily return to the band in 1977 before leaving again to join Camel; apparently, one of the songs that he'd originally recorded with Caravan in that period eventually became Camel's ʽDown On The Farmʼ (which is hardly surprising, since it always had that lightweight, downhome, facetious Caravan groove to it). The CD release is further padded with four tracks from a later session — not sure about the year, but the only Caravan member on that session was Pye, accompanied by Roxy Music's John Gustafson on bass and future Marillion member Ian Mosley on drums. The songs do sound stylistically similar to the main material, though, so there will be no jarring break in perception.

Anyway, the key difference from typical Caravan output of the period is that, although this is still strictly a pop album, the songs are somewhat tighter written and contain more seductive melodic moves than usual. Formally, the title track might be one of those smooth-jazz-meets-adult-contemporary borefests, but Schelhaas chooses some epic keyboard tones (and it is cool how the song has Minimoog, electric piano, and organ all going on at the same time), and the chorus transforms the song into a heartfelt prayer — and we do not know many Caravan songs that sound like prayers, do we? Unfortunately, nobody seemed to take that request literally and give Mr. Hastings some cool water as requested.

But even if you still get bored with the song's slow tempo and way-too-soothing arrangement, ʽJust The Way You Areʼ is the first in a series of upbeat pop tracks with cute 'n' catchy singalong choruses that show Hastings had definitely not run out of ideas by that time — there's also ʽCold Frightʼ, a piece of funny funk-pop, and, among the later bonuses, ʽPoor Mollyʼ, one of Caravan's (or, in this case, solo Hastings') rare forays into disco, and the calypso-influenced ʽYou Won't Get Me Up In One Of Thoseʼ, both of which are passable. Things get worse on deliberate attempts to «rock out»: ʽTuesday Is Rock And Roll Niteʼ is pretty cringeworthy — Pye Hastings and boogie are about as compatible as Bill Gates and WWE, and unless you take Pye's invitation to «rock and roll!» with a heavy side of irony, I don't see any grounds for competing with contemporary rockers here. Did Pye intend this to be an ironic send-up? Not sure.

Then there are the other slow ballads: ʽCrack Of The Willowʼ has a memorable, old-fashioned synth riff, good for a decent traditional country dance; ʽSide By Sideʼ has an equally memorable voice-guitar duet, though the song's steady waltz tempo is far from the peak of Hastings' creative inventiveness; and ʽSend Reinforcementsʼ ends the CD on a very uplifting note — with the single best use of falsetto on the whole album. I realize that I am not shedding much light on particula­rities here, but these particularities are hard to comment upon — it's just good old Pye in his friendly-glowing mode, taxing his brain and his soul for a few more melodic lines that would accentuate the glowing.

So why exactly is this piece better than the albums that surround it on both sides, and is it pure coincidence that Cool Water had to stay in the vaults for so long when melodically inferior pro­duct was made available? My guess would be as good as anybody's, but Cool Water has a more homely and personal feel, where something like The Album would strive more for arena-rock values. As for Better By Far, it was homely, too, but somehow it just did not have the same amount of vocal and instrumental hooks — a slip-up, perhaps, that could be corrected with the follow-up level if the band had not been so cruelly let down by its label. Not that I am implying that Cool Water is a forgotten masterpiece: at best, it is just evidence that the genius of Caravan did not evaporate in one day, but kept fluctuating for a while, before the turbulence of the Eigh­ties shut it off completely. But it is indeed an album worth owning, and it is good to see it rein­stated in the regular Caravan chronology, so a thumbs up without any second thoughts.

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