The Caravans

The Caravans
Paved The Way

"We paved the way. I'm not bragging or anything, but the Lord used us. He used us to lay the foundation for the future. Money wasn't the thing. We did it because we loved the Lord. That is what I was taught and that is what I still believe. We were young. We were saved. And any way that He wanted to use us, we were willing to do it and that is the way it was and still is."

Albertina Walker

In the 1960's, the biggest group in Gospel was inarguably The Caravans. Packed venues, hit songs, numerous imitators, and album after album after album revealed the greatness of the this female ensemble.

CDAlbertina Walker, Dorothy Norwood, Shirley Caesar, Inez Andrews, Delores Washington, Cassietta George, Josephine Howard, Bessie Griffin, and several others counted themselves as members of the group at one time or another. And that's not mention James Cleveland, Robert Anderson and James Herndon, who also played significant roles in the group.

Fast forward to 2006, and The Caravans, amazingly, are back. The album is Paved The Way, and features mainstay Albertina Walker along with Inez Andrews, Dorothy Norwood and Deloris Washington (read feature interview)

Recorded live at Walker's home church of West Point Baptist (read recording recap), Norwood produces together with Rev. Milton Biggham, for Malaco Records. The Just Friends choir (pulled from the ranks of The West Point Choir) serves up backing vocals for the album, and works alongside a famed band crew that includes Derrick Lee, Al Willis, and Andrews' son, Richard Gibbs.

The album begins with the title cut, which present Norwood with an opportunity to expand on the meaning of the project's name. Using the best of her vaunted storytelling techniques, she recounts how the group endured trials on the gospel highway, with racism and more failing to deter the group's musical ministry.

Washington's distinctive soprano is at the forefront on "Be Done", a slow ballad featuring some great harmonies, which melds into the melody and lyrics of the hymn, "I Surrender All". Walker takes the lead on "All The Way", her gravelled alto resounding with fervour amidst the traditional backdrop.

The CaravansBiggham writes "God Fixed It", a song on which Walker takes charge with a laid-back style that belies her ultimate take-command approach to the cut.

Not forgetting their many hits, The Caravans revisit "Mary Don't You Weep", featuring Andrews, along with the glorious "Remember Me" and Walker's massive hit, "Lord Keep Me Day By Day". These ladies sing it like it like their commercial heyday was only yesterday —testimony that their song is powerful not because of any show biz stylings, but rather, because of the Source from which it (still) comes.

On "No Coward Soldier", guest vocalist Evelyn Turrentine-Agee takes the mic. The song, which Shirley Caesar took to heights during her stint with the group in 1960's, is power-packed once again, stirring with its quick tempo and shout-encouraging theme.

Totalling 13 songs in all, Paved The Way is a triumph in so many ways. Don't miss out on this piece of history, and this treasure of Gospel music.

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Producer: Dorothy Norwood, Milton Biggham
album release date: September, 2006
Malaco Records

— review by Stan North

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