Spirit Caravan, Dreamwheel EP (1999)
To my ears, Spirit Caravan is the blues, plain and simple. Like the best of the classic blues, it could be, but didn’t always have to be dark or depressing or aggressive in order to be heavy or to convey a sense of weight. It’s been a couple years at this point, so if you don’t remember, you’re certainly forgiven, but I used to run a regular weekly feature around here called Wino Wednesday. I quite literally did 200 of them. And yes, Spirit Caravan‘s 1999 Dreamwheel EP (on MeteorCity) was discussed as part of that series, but as we move toward Springtime, it’s hard for me not to go back to this band and this short release in particular, precisely because it’s that combination of hopeful and heavy that’s so rare, not only in the canon of Scott “Wino” Weinrich, but in the wider sphere of heavy as a whole. And where there is happy heavy, it’s almost never done so well or to such a degree of each as it felt natural for Spirit Caravan to represent. They hit the balance just right.
And yeah, I could have closed out the week (and probably will at some point close out a week) with Spirit Caravan‘s landmark 1999 debut, Jug Fulla Sun (discussed here), or that record’s 2001 follow-up, Elusive Truth, or even their 2003 swansong compilation The Last Embrace, but Dreamwheel has a special feel about it. I won’t take anything away from Jug Fulla Sun, and if we’re picking favorite Spirit Caravan records, that’s my pick, but for the fact that Dreamwheel clocks in at under 20 minutes long, has five easy-rolling tracks, and asks nothing more of its audience than a bit of nod, I just feel like it’s the sonic equivalent of an unexpected compliment. Right? Like someone coming up to you and saying something nice out of the blue. “Oh, here’s Dreamwheel,” and instantly your day is better. I don’t know a lot of releases, full-length, EP, or otherwise, that can pull that off in the kind of lasting way that Dreamwheel does, beginning with the six-minute opening title-track’s examination of spirituality, bouncing groove, aliens or who knows what else is going on in there. I won’t profess to, but it rounds out with the line, “You’ve got to dream and keep on rollin’,” and as rock and roll sentiments go, that’s a tough one to beat. As happens with a lot of short releases (and albums, for that matter), Dreamwheel becomes in large part defined by its titular cut. Not only is “Dreamwheel” the longest inclusion (plus opener equals immediate points), but the tone it sets plays into the following “Burnin’ In,” the cymbal-abrasion-into-guitar-led-scorch of “Re-Alignment / Higher Power,” and into the closing pair of “Sun Stoned” and “C, Yourself” as well.
Through it all, Wino, bassist/backing vocalist Dave Sherman (who’d shortly move on to his first release with Earthride) and drummer Gary Isom showed with no small thanks to the Chris Kozlowski recording job their utter mastery of that righteous, potent brew that was their own and that has never been anyone else’s, even among other “Wino bands,” whether that’s The Obsessed, The Hidden Hand, Wino (actually, the shortlived Wino band came closest), Premonition 13 or whoever. All at the same time, it’s a sound that’s classic in its construction and influence, modern in its presentation, natural in tone, laid back, heavy, consuming but accessible, at once of Maryland doom tradition and working in defiance of it. That scene — and please don’t take this as a slight against Maryland doom, which if you read this site, ever, you know I hold dear — has never produced another band like Spirit Caravan, and Spirit Caravan only made one Dreamwheel EP.
It’s a moment in time that never came again. As they moved on to Elusive Truth in 2001, their sound took on a doomier feel, and in 2002, Spirit Caravan would call it a day as Sherman went on to focus on Earthride, Wino joined Place of Skulls for a time and launched The Hidden Hand, whose debut, Divine Propaganda, arrived in 2003, and Isom floated between a host of acts, among them Nitroseed, Valkyrie, Unorthodox and Pentagram. Of course the band got back together, first with the original lineup, and then not, in 2014 and played live shows and started to work on new material, but would disintegrate again as that reunion transitioned into one for The Obsessed, whose new LP, Sacred, is out next week on Relapse Records with a recording lineup of Wino, Sherman and drummer Brian Costantino, who had replaced Isom in Spirit Caravan‘s final to-date incarnation.
Got all that? Bottom line is Dreamwheel, while short, is a record of which it’s worth basking in every minute. There is no moment on it that does not satisfy or does not enrich the listener, and I hope that as you make your way through it, you have the experience I referred to above, and you come out of it feeling better than you did going in. Think of it as my way of saying something nice.
Even if you don’t get there, as always, I hope you enjoy.
I took today off work. One doesn’t want to oversell it by calling it the best decision I’ve ever made, but it certainly is glorious. Don’t get me wrong, most days, I don’t hate my job. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. But as I roll steadily into middle age — I’m 36 in October — I realize more and more that office life, working for someone else, corporate or small company, isn’t what I want to be doing with my days.
As a kid, I watched my father sweat and travel and stress for a series of jobs he hated because he felt like it was what he needed to do to support his family. He wanted to die. Literally. For years. Part of that is chemical, as I know from my own experience, but as I sit in my kitchen on this morning off and watch the sun come up across my backyard, I know that while on some levels he was right — my family wouldn’t have gotten by in the same way on my mom’s public school teacher’s salary — there’s another kind of value at play as well, and that’s the value of making your existence bearable. Because when you’re miserable like that, it bleeds into everyone around you. I know this.
So yeah, I don’t want to work anymore. Not in an office. Not full-time. It might take me years to make something else happen, but that change is something I need to do to make my life what I want it to be, because I’ll tell you, right now I have the greatest job I’ve ever had and probably the greatest job I’ll ever have and there are still plenty of days in the week where I wake up dreading going to it. The commute, the air, the loud people, the commute back. All of it. It’s just not where I want to be. I don’t even feel like a person some days. I counted minutes Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and yesterday to get to this morning.
And I know we need money even though we’re broke no matter how much we bring in, but I also feel like I owe it to The Patient Mrs. not to be so god damn wretched all the time. That’s where my head is at.
Appreciating the day, then, and trying to make it as weekend-y as possible. I’ve got my huge YOB shirt on (I call it “my weekend YOB shirt,” and rest assured, I’ll be wearing it until Monday) and my lined pajamas and my warm socks (those I’ll change), and I’m listening to the new Siena Root for the first time and sipping my coffee. The dog’s in her bed in the corner and life is good and restorative, and moments like this are what it’s about. In a while The Patient Mrs. will come downstairs and have breakfast and I’ll make another pot and put some protein powder in one of the cups, and we’ll talk about the day to come. It’s going to be a good one. I can feel it already.
We’re heading into April; deeper into 2017. I hope you’re doing well.
Thanks if you got to check out any of the Quarterly Review this week. That means a lot to me, and I appreciate it when people can put eyes to things like that. I know 50 reviews is a lot to keep up with — believe me — but if you found something you dig, that’s awesome.
Next week is slammed as well as of now. Here’s what’s on tap, subject to change as always:
Mon.: Closet Disco Queen review/EP stream and Elder Druid video.
Tue.: Lord Loud review/premiere, Greenbeard video premiere.
Wed.: Ides of Gemini Six Dumb Questions, The Obsessed review, maybe Cultura Tres video.
Thu.: Arc of Ascent review/track premiere, Beastwars video (NZ day!)
Fri.: Electric Moon review, other stuff.
Truth be told, I’ve got reviews and premieres planned through the better part of April already. I know what I’ll be doing every day between now and Roadburn, and there’s some stuff locked in already for May and more to come, so yeah. Plenty going on. Things are getting full earlier, which is validating in a way, but as I finish one Quarterly Review I’ve already started to think about the next, and there are times where it’s overwhelming. Mostly Tuesdays, oddly. Tuesday’s always my roughest day.
A note about The Obelisk Radio: We’ve been running on the backup server for the last several weeks since the hard drive crashed. I bought a new drive — it’s 4TB, so eventually there will be even more space to work with — and Slevin is in the process of switching everything over, but it’s taking a really long time because the old busted drive apparently has a shit-ton of bad data. Turns out maybe running it 24 hours a day/seven days a week took a toll in some way? Crazy, I know. In any case, it’s still going to be a while. I have another round of radio adds slated for April 10 and I’m not sure if we’ll be back on the full playlist by then, but it’s a work in progress and if you listen regularly, I appreciate your patience with it.
Alright. Can’t imagine I haven’t gone on long enough. If you’re still reading this, thanks.
I hope you have or have had a wonderful day, depending I suppose on your time zone, and that you enjoy a great and safe weekend. See you back here on Monday for more, and in the meantime please check out the forum, the (backup) radio stream, and the new The Obelisk page on Thee Facebooks.