Caravan

The Unauthorised Breakfast Item

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The 21st century version of Caravan is here to entertain the die-hard Canterbury heads, and fans of the group should be pleased by some familiar names from the good old days of the '60s and '70s, who appear either as members of the core sextet or as special guests. Pye Hastings, Richard Coughlan, Geoffrey Richardson, Jan Schelhaas, Dave Sinclair, and Jimmy Hastings can all be heard at one point or another on the whimsically named The Unauthorised Breakfast Item, the 2003 CD whose title track references an apparent run-in of sorts with hotel restaurant staff when the band appeared at the 2002 NEARFest in Trenton, New Jersey. The well-produced ten-track CD includes a ten-page booklet filled with photos and lyrics to the eight non-instrumental tunes, whose presence in the track listing might be a warning sign for Caravan fans right from the get-go. For while various touches -- Sinclair's trademark fuzz organ keyboard tone during his solo at the conclusion of "Revenge," Jimmy Hastings' lovely soprano sax during "Tell Me Why"'s closing vamp -- might get an old Caravan aficionado pumped up a bit, the fact is that this CD is filled with catchy yet conventional rock songs, some pretty balladeering, and lots of lead vocalizing by Hastings (whose somewhat understated singing style remains engaging and sounds basically unchanged from the early days, even if the booklet photos suggest he might be physically morphing into Bill Clinton).

In the band's heyday, Caravan let loose with stunning instrumental passages on extended suites like "For Richard," "Nine Feet Underground," and "The Love in Your Eye." Certainly this pegged the group as a prog rock outfit, but unlike most others in this much-maligned style, Caravan never stalled the momentum or became heavy-handed in their sometimes intricate extended jams. Here, the brief instrumentals "Wild West Street" and "Linders Field" might toss a bone to those who would like the bandmembers to step back from the mikes and just play for a bit, but the band's spacy instrumental interludes often seem less than fully developed, tending almost toward smooth jazz with an adult contemporary or new age sheen. The hottest soloing is reserved for a comparative youngster, guitarist Doug Boyle, whose blues-rock approach (he's a former Robert Plant axeman) passes for street cred in this group and also suggests he's a big fan of Andy Latimer. The Unauthorised Breakfast Item has enough heartfelt vocalizing, driving rhythms, hooky choruses, burning solos, contemporary jazz overtones, and atmospheric production effects to give some satisfaction to Caravan fans of yore. But newcomers should seek out the band's discography from about 30 years (or more) earlier to experience stronger doses of excitement.

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