Donovan carries on with his flower-child persona even as it
29-year old wallflower | West Lafayette, IN | 05/24/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"In the early years of his career, Donovan had to deal with being called the British Bob Dylan, even if his brand of songwriting was nowhere near the caliber of Bob's. Where Donovan was childlike & precious, Bob was hardened & wise. Where Donovan stuck to his flower-child posturings for most of his career (that has changed slightly in recent years), Bob switched writing styles frequently, from topical songwriting to poetic mindscapes & back again. Perhaps it is that everchanging style that has kept Bob in the forefront of today's music scene, and saddled Donovan with oldies status. In 1969, both Donovan & Bob released albums that confounded the masses, and met with vastly different responses to both their careers. Bob put out the country-based NASHVILLE SKYLINE that was more a sign of Bob's wish to conduct his career as he saw fit, and his fans were either along for the ride or not (clearly, enough of them were). Donovan released BARABAJAGAL, which was yet another example of his psychedelia-lite approach to music, and indicated his days as a serious hitmaker were coming to a close.
While lyrically, Donovan's music had refused to budge from its child's-eye view of the world, credit should be given later in the 1960s for musically shaking things up a bit. 1968's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" benefitted greatly from Jimmy Page's scorching electric guitar work, and had to have made Donovan, at least briefly, cool to fans of the harder, more serious psychedelic rock of the time. It would have been a direction Donovan had done well to continue in, but the accompanying album of the same name was mostly more of the same gentle folk-pop people had come to associate with him. BARABAJAGAL is another case of a few signs of rock life, but the rest sticking closely to the script.
The title track featured help from the newly-formed Jeff Beck Group, and they do help elevate what could have been another routine folk number with a much-welcomed dose of electricity. Nobody could get away with lyrics like these in today's day & age, but for the era, their riff on ALICE IN WONDERLAND fit in well. Unfortunately, this is the only such rock-based song on BARABAJAGAL that works well. The other Jeff Beck-augmented one, "Trudi", is a throwaway at best, with lyrics that are a blatant rewrite of "Lay Of The Last Tinker" from A GIFT FROM A FLOWER TO A GARDEN (1967).
What songs remain on BARABAJAGAL that adhere to Donovan's tried formula are reasonably good, and are fine last gasps to the style that would become obsolete as the 1970s dawned. Looking back, releasing the 5-minute long "Atlantis" as a single had to have taken some guts. The song is mostly a spoken-word piece with the only sung lyrics repeated over & over into the fade. But it was an "anything goes" atmosphere in the music scene of the time, and as it is, it became Donovan's last trip to the American top 10. When Donovan guested on FUTURAMA singing this song as "Atlanta", it certainly showed he had a sense of humor not often made apparent in his music.
In his own gentle way, Donovan even protested the Vietnam war with "To Susan On The West Coast Waiting", a top 40 hit that intriguingly came from the point of view of a soldier in the war rather than someone at home protesting against it. OK, so it is not "Fortunate Son", but it does its intended job in its intended way very well. Only "Where Is She" manages to keep things on a mature enough level so that it does not sink into sub-children's song territory. It is in that area where BARABAJAGAL demonstrates the faults with Donovan's becoming a victim of his own formula.
"Superlungs My Supergirl" & "The Love Song" are more adolescence-oriented, even if the former is clearly about a teenage girl with a smoking habit ("how to draw" is obviously not about doodling). "Pamela Jo" is the same way, but it manages to be a catchy-enough number that it is one you actually want to listen to more than once, its English music-hall vibe being undoubtedly infectious. It was clear all involved were enjoying themselves while recording it.
"I Love My Shirt" & "Happiness Runs" (recently employed in a cereal commercial) are quite obviously songs that would likely appeal only to those under the age of 10. While there are many times that Donovan's youthful persona is quite engaging to the average adult listener, those two songs are not those times. When Donovan continued to turn out songs like this well into his 1970s work & even devote an entire album to them (H.M.S. DONOVAN), he must have known somehow this was not the way to continue to be taken seriously by the public. It is thus a shame that by the time of excellent adult-based albums like 1996's Rick Rubin-produced SUTRAS & 2004's BEAT CAFE, Donovan's credibility had all but eroded. Songs like the above two certainly did not help matters.
At its best, BARABAJAGAL showed Donovan's light psychedelia still working well within the context of the times. At its worst, it demonstrated that he would need to make some serious changes to his approach if he wanted to stay relevant. Clearly, he did not want to, for he stubbornly stuck to his old tricks for as long as possible, making the music he wanted to make, but at a sacrifice to his commercial respectability."
A hard to find album worth looking for
29-year old wallflower | 05/27/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Not having heard any material from this album for many years (other than "Atlantis"), I was surprised at how Donovan could get down when he wanted to. The title track has a vicious rhythm, and most of the other songs also are very solid. Yet, there are still some ballads in the Donovan tradition, such as "Happiness Runs". There is more variety here than many of his other albums, with comic songs such as "I Love my Shirt" and "Pamela Jo", and of course "Atlantis". A real departure for Donovan, not so psychedelic, and not Dylan-influenced."
A childhood memory
29-year old wallflower | 12/20/1998
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Hey, this brings back memories of the wonderful 8-track. Mom bought this back when I was just a youngin', and I really thought Donovan was singing "My Song" with "Happy Nessa Runs..." What a weaver our Donovan is. I saw him a few years ago in Los Angeles before he released his album, and I felt I was in the presence of royalty..."