This is the probably the greatest album released in 2015. Well, okay, I guess I wouldn’t know since I generally ignore all music made since 1996. But anyhow, it’s really darn good and the more you listen to it, the better it becomes. Here are the CD liner notes just in case you got the record in non-digital format.
The album’s opener is probably most straight-up rock’n’roller the band has ever done. It’s got a strong beat and it feels like the band is frolicking through the song, only to be rent asunder by a wild, angular guitar solo, which calls to mind NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson’s old band Wildweeds. It certainly kicks off the album right.
Black Tea Eyes
One of the cool things about Beat Caravan is that they have three lead singers and each gives the songs they sing their own unique tone. This is what gives their sound such versatility. This tune features the female voice of the three, Miho, whose voice is matches well the jangly guitar and the beat’s forward propulsion.
Ray Baby Ray
This song, sung by Bob, has a lilting rhythm with strummed acoustic guitar and marimba, all of which gives it a blissful, good-timey feel that calls to mind bands like Lovin’ Spoonful, Bunky & Jake and Beat Caravan’s favorite NRBQ. This tune is a testament to the band’s wide breadth, which started out going from punk to power pop but now incorporates all kinds of different styles naturally and effortlessly.
When You Sing A Lullaby
Along with the three lead vocals, Beat Caravan also has intricate harmony work arranged by drummer Matt. The band’s chorus work puts it on par with other great harmony-singing bands like the Eagles and CNSY. Maybe that’s why the album is called “Odd Harmony?” This tune also shows off the band’s songwriting skill, especially where the whole tone of the chorus seems to shift to mimic Miho’s lead vocals.
When you think of “rock ‘n roll,” what comes to mind is a straight-ahead 8-beat, but this song shakes it up. Over a basic 8-beat, Miho’s bass adds a 4-beat rhythm and this kicks it into a special kind of swing feel. And then the band goes into a different rhythm before the solo, and when they do this live, it’s pretty damn impressive. Miho’s playing on this tune calls to mind long-time NRBQ bassist and Spampinato Brother Joey Spampinato.
At Da ‘Coma
This song brings out Beat Caravan’s power pop roots with a sweet melody and irresistibly jangly guitar. It shows you why BC often gets compared to Teenage Fanclub, even though the band members deny any serious influence. But both bands love Big Star, the dB’s and other power pop pioneers, and you can really hear it here. What’s especially cool about this song is its lyrics. They’re inspired by Da ‘Coma (actually the Beachcomber), a local bar in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where Beat Caravan heroes the Incredible Casuals play every summer for the tourist season. This is Beat Caravan’s homage to Da ‘Coma, even though none of the members have actually been there. The tune captures the atmosphere of a rollicking party where there’s lots of laughter, lots of dancing, and ample booze flowing.
A Breezy Ride
This song has frontman Shooge on vocals. Rock and roll vocals are often shouted or have a phony theatricality about them, but you’ll find none of that here. With Shooge’s singing style, the lyrics roll naturally along the rhythm and melody of the song. I’ve sung in bands myself and I can tell you that it’s hard to nail it when you’re singing really straight and naturally like that. The balance is done so that Shooge’s vocals stand out from the music and backup vocals nicely. This tune is compact and catchy.
Find Me In The Waterfall
This song is the lightest and bounciest on the album, and who is playing those cheerful congas in the background? It’s none other than Ayumu Nemoto of Power, Z and hununhum. This is part of the gender-smashing quality that makes Beat Caravan unique. You can also see it in the band’s choice of Kousuke Nakamura to handle the album’s recording, mixing and mastering. He is known for his performance as maju and Kangaroo Paw, as well as his engineering work for artists like toe, You Irie, and Nibondo Tsuchi Yani Bond. This eclectic mix of personnel is one reason why the album sounds so fresh and modern, even though it’s a mix of traditional rock and pop styles.
Wish You Really Knew Me
This mellow and irresistibly sweet song showcases Miho’s vocals. This is another tune that mixes a variety of styles and elements and shows how far the band has come since its beginnings. Listen to this one alone and in just the right mood, and you might find yourself getting a bit misty-eyed.
Opening with a distinctive slide guitar riff, this song has its own unique and delicate beauty. This tune is full of great guitar work. The guitar calls to mind the work of Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, as well as Yo La Tengo’s Dave Schramm. The jagged, angular guitar work in the interlude sounds like something Richard Thompson or Robert Quine might have played.
Be My One Girl
This song was put on the band’s SoundCloud page ahead of the release, so you may have already heard it before, but it really shines here on the album. You could say it’s the album’s “hit song.” It has a folky atmosphere and a melody that squeezes your heart and doesn’t let go. The song is a flawless 3-minute pop song that has the same kind of feeling as NRBQ’s “It Feels Good.” Shooge’s vocals are also extraordinary.
The last song on the album is a re-recorded version of “Blowing Away” from the band’s second EP “Volume 2” from 2004. It’s pretty cool that they put the band’s signature song, a huge crowd-please at live shows and a track off their first album, here as the last track on their latest album. Compared to the original version from when the band was a three-piece, this version has a more ensemble-like feel with an added acoustic guitar and tambourine.
The last two songs are bonus tracks but don’t you dare call them that! Written just for the CD release, these songs have a fresh feeling to them. This song has cool, laid-back vocals by Miho and feels like a departure for the band from what they’ve done until now. It’s a beautiful song with a slightly haunted feel like Big Star’s “Way Out West.”
It’s Not Over
Right when you get to the end of the album, here comes a hooky chorus telling you, “It’s not over! It’s not over!” They definitely planned it this way. This is a charming, freewheeling song that sounds like BC’s take on early 60s white-kid NYC doo-wop. You can imagine the band standing on a street corner singing it together.
(*editor’s note: It’s about Santa Claus)
… And that’s that. Whether you’re a long-time fan or you’re just discovering Beat Caravan, I hope you feel the way I do, that there’s no album in recent years nearly as charming as this. It’s a record meant for heavy rotation.
But what it really comes down to most of all is the band’s songwriting. The focal point of the songwriting is Matt, but it’s clear that they all work out the songs as a band. The band’s eclecticism really stands out. They take styles from all over the map – country, soul, rhythm and blues, jazz, power pop, rock and roll – and break it all down into bite-sized chunks and put it all back together again to create a kind of universal rock music. It sounds easy enough but it’s not, and nobody does it with more taste and skill.
It’s tough for a band to navigate the contradiction of honoring tradition and the music from the past they love while also creating something fresh, new and original. Beat Caravan, who you can imagine must spend endless hours in an izakaya somewhere gabbing on and on about the music they love, manage to do this. They have a deep and faithful love of music and a sense of fun. Beat Caravan fits right into this tradition with the likes of NRBQ and Alex Chilton.
Sweet Rock ‘n’ Roll is here to stay!
Play on, Beat Caravan!