Jan Schelhaas - Living on a Little Blue Dot [Talking Elephant Records - 2021]
Jan Schelhaas rose to prominence in the 1970s as the keyboard player for Canterbury-based progressive rock legends Caravan before switching allegiance in 1978 and signing on with another legendary prog band, Camel. Schelhaas returned to Caravan in 2002 and has remained a member ever since, he has released three solo albums during his career, Living on a Little Blue Dot is the second, originally released in 2017 on Shell records.
The album features an outstanding array of talent in the form of guitarist Doug Boyle (Caravan, Robert Plant and Nigel Kennedy), saxophonist Jimmy Hastings (Caravan, Hatfield and the North and almost every Canterbury band you can think of), his brother, Pye Hastings (vocalist/guitarist with Caravan), Andy Latimer (guitarist, vocalist with Camel), Neil Ford (National Headband), Geoffrey Richardson (Caravan, Murray Head and Spirogyra) and Mark Walker (Caravan). One couldn’t help but be convinced that the album would sound like Caravan, as it features most of their current lineup, however there is much more at play here.
Inspired by the work of astrophysicist, Carl Sagan, Living on a Little Blue Dot is a thoroughly lovely, slice of warm, gentle progressive rock. It features perfect relaxed summer tunes that flow effortlessly, and draw on the legacy of those involved but with a genuine pop sensibility. Right from the off the album is filled with beautiful melodies and some of the most chilled music I’ve heard outside of the ambient scene. In fact, I would definitely suggest this has the feel of a classic ambient electronic album, but with organic instrumentation instead of synths. Opener "Stars on Fire" is a lovely introduction, a mellow prog/pop masterpiece but without the usual time changes involved in most prog rock. This is followed by the title track, a much proggier piece that features some outstanding musical performances, not too dissimilar to late-period Pink Floyd in the way it effortlessly flows. "In Her Mind follows" in largely the same vein, however "When the Sun Comes In" features some pretty distinctive guitar playing and some Syd Barret-esque vocals. "Makin’ Babies" is a really pretty little song that features some lovely clarinet from Jimmy Hastings.
The second half of the album kicks off with ""Sometime, a Pink Floyd inspired track, with some lead guitar work that could be mistaken for Dave Gilmour. "The Last Time" and "The Gypsy’s Coming Home" follow in much the same vein as the rest of the album, before regular closer "If Not" takes things down a notch to bring proceedings to a close. However, on this new edition there are three bonus tracks, all featuring Andy Latimer on guitar, "Armageddon" is a little more up-tempo than the rest up to this point, but it retains the warmth and the lushness of the other tracks. "Rock and Roll Sun" as the title suggests is another up-tempo number that once again fits nicely with the rest and would work as a good lead single. The album’s closer "My Name’s Dave" takes things back down again, with some gorgeous Beatles/ Beach Boys style melodies, this may be my personal favourite as you can really hear Caravan in this one.
Overall, Living on a Little Blue Dot, is a gorgeous summery album, ethereal and with a sumptuousness that makes you want to head out into the idyllic English countryside, sit by the river and just let the music take you on a magical trip downstream, or as is probably the intention, to take you on a trip out into the universe. Either way works, but above all this is a lovely album full of warmth and positive vibesDarren Charles