The Battle of Hastings

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Listening to this beautifully melodic, midtempo album by Caravan is a bit like stepping inside of a time-warp. The group sounds astonishingly good vocally, and Pye Hastings' songwriting skills are as fine as (and maybe finer than) ever, as though they've scarcely skipped a beat from their 1970s heyday. Released in 1995, The Battle of Hastings might have put them on the U.S. charts, at least if an edited version of the hook-laden and memorable "Liar" had been released as an accompanying single -- indeed, this is the record that might've broken the band in America. It's a little late for that now, but time shouldn't prevent anyone from taking in the sweet, folk-like melodies and the rich harmonies. The playing is a curious mix of sharp attacks on mostly acoustic instruments punctuated with lead electric guitar that manages to be both sinewy and elegant (except where it's delightfully understated, as on most of "It's Not Real"), juxtaposed with Jimmy Hastings's richly melodic sax playing. Everything on this record works well, even the editing -- not a note is wasted, as though this were 1970 or so and the band is still competing at the forefront of art-rock and progressive rock circles. One important reason why this music works so well is that there is no pretentiousness about it. The band doesn't try to be heavy or profoundly serious; nor do they try to force rock music to carry ideas it was never meant to carry. Additionally, there's no slackness here, just wonderfully inventive composition and performance, all wrapped together in a gloriously elegant sound.

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