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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Caravan

Cunning Stunts

Review by Scott Prinzing

There have been a number of albums I purchased over the years based solely on album covers.  Van Halen’s debut comes to mind; as does Budgie’s Bandolier.  I kept seeing Cunning Stunts at used record stores and was intrigued by the Hipgnosis cover art.  A quick read of the song titles and instrumentation (the viola intrigued me as a huge Kansas fan) signaled that this was a British prog album; albeit a bit more on the jazz side than rock. It was more pop than longtime fans of the underground band cared for, so it does have a bit of a love/hate reputation. It did find the band reach 124 on the “Billboard” album charts in 1975.  As a teenager I found myself taking to it right away, even though I was more into metal at the time.  I picked up a few other Caravan albums over the years, but this one has always remained my favorite.

Track by Track Review
The Show of Our Lives
Early Gilmour-era Pink Floyd is the first thing that comes to mind if I had to compare this song to something else, but it mostly sounds like Caravan to me.  It’s a mid-tempo tune.  It has some nice guitar soloing by Geoff Richardson (normally violist/flutist) and ends with a repeated Christmas carol of sorts: “Ring the bells and sing!
Stuck in a Hole
This would have been a good choice for a single, as it has a catchy sing-along chorus.  It also showcases the Jon Anderson-like vocal range of Hastings.  The violin solo sounds less dated than the synth solo, though.
Lover

Bassist Wedgewood’s gentle ballad would have been stronger if it were edited to hit single length.  At over five minutes, it does finish off with some very lovely violin, but it lacks any real crescendo.

No Backstage Pass

This is one of only two Hastings contributions on an album that has more equitable writing credits. It’s another great song that could’ve been a single, with its catchy, upbeat Floydian chorus.  It eventually ventures into a bit of jazz odyssey with some great soloing paired with a scat vocal.

Welcome the Day

Wedgewood contributes this great song with funky Floydian groove.  It sounds like it’s right out of the mid-70s Floyd songbook, with more domestic lyrics: “Waking is so nice now, sleeping is a dream / Living is so fine, nothing seems mean / Sad times are on ice now, troubles hide away / Living is so fine - welcome the day!”

Fear and Loathing in Tollington Park Rag

Depending on what country your copy is from, this short acoustic rag appears in different places in the song order.  It was the end of side one on my original vinyl; end of side two on other copies I’ve seen.  Richardson wrote this acoustic guitar/flute duet.

The Dabsong Conshirtoe

At about 18 minutes in length, this sidelong opus by Sinclair is over half instrumental jam.  But, despite some of the best songwriting on the album, it’s the soloing by Hastings, and Richardson and Sinclair that really top off this album.
a. The Mad Dabsong

This piece also features lyrics more typical of the prog we know and love: “Man is the child of child, the father of the man / Like pools within a pool and waves upon the sand / Like birds that fly so free but somewhere / must begin / Their end like circles begins again.”

b. Ben Karratt Rides Again
This movement brings a funky Pink Floyd to mind.

c. Pro's & Con's

 This boogie woogie piece comes with a horn section and lyrics that sound like Bon Scott penned them:  “Flat-Flabby Freda / An orgy of pure blubber and flesh / From all that I see, I just cannot dream / Why they say you're six of the best?”

d. Wraiks & Ladders
Next comes the big pipe organ segue.
e. Sneaking Out the Bare Quare
This is a bit of jazz odyssey. The band stretches out with a bit of soloing here.
f. All Sorts of Unmentionable Things
The jazzy prog soloing just keeps on going for about ten minutes before the “Ring the Bells” chant from the opening track takes us out for the holidays.

 

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