Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Music for the Pastor's Study: Part XIV. Camel/Richard Sinclair

Before we leave the peculiar and historic Canterbury progressive (art) rock/jazz fusion scene entirely in the rear view mirror, let's mention a track or two by a great, but overlooked band, and some of its personnel. Camel is one of those groups like King Crimson that changed lineups with nearly every album. In this case the common element was/has been Andrew Latimer, who has been in ill health for the last several years, though I believe he's in recovery. A terrific guitarist, primary composer, and lead singer in the band, Latimer shared the microphone for a time in the late seventies with Richard Sinclair, who has in my view the most pleasing male voice in rock music. I suppose that is a somewhat moot point, since in the pastor's study I tend to privilege instrumental tracks, such as "Elke," from Camel's Rain Dances album (1977), which bears the "ambient" engineering fingerprints of Brian Eno. I always look forward to iTunes circling to this track for the same reason I've mentioned in connection with what makes for a great prelude to worship: it slows me down, pulse rate and all.

Meanwhile, I mention Richard Sinclair (Caravan, Hatfield and the North, The Wilde Flowers) and his soothing baritone voice because his own vocal tracks tend to fall into one of two categories that are virtually instrumental: on the one hand, he has a lovely wordless way of singing that should technically be called "scat," but for the fact that it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the North America jazz form that is normally associated with the word, and on the other hand, his songs with lyrics are delightfully non-sensical (i.e., he usually sings about the fact that he is at present singing the particular song to which you are listening), so they may either be enjoyed for their silliness or tuned out altogether with the knowledge that the words are just placeholders. "Umbrellas" on Before a Word is Said is a nice example of Sinclair's Kentish "scat," as is "My Sweet Darlin'" on R.S.V.P. "Going for a Song" on Caravan of Dreams, and "Tell Me" on Rain Dances represent his circular singing about singing. Enjoy.

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