Mixed rag-bag with some gems
Laurence Upton | Wilts, UK | 06/22/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Barabajagal was Donovan's sixth studio album of original material in three years, and unfortunately it shows. In circumstances reminiscent of the Sunshine Superman album, much of it was in the can for well over a year before being released in America, and Pye in the UK chose not to release it at all.
It features the hit single Goo Goo Barajagal (Love Is Hot)/Trudi (Bed With Me), both of which feature the Jeff Beck Group, and are about as sexualized and as heavy as Donovan ever gets. Trudi was actually a reworked and partially reworded version of The Lay Of The Last Tinker from A Gift from a Flower to a Garden: The Little Ones album. Atlantis, a previous single, which was coupled in America with the disarmingly childlike, if less successful anti-Viet Nam War song To Susan In The West Coast Waiting, is also a highly striking and atmospheric piece of work. What was used to fill up the rest of the album was distinctly below par, however, with the worst examples actually predisposing one by context against the rest.
Superlungs My Supergirl, a song he had attempted and discarded twice in 1966, is somewhat Jeff Beck-lite and is perfectly fine, with some nice guitar work from Big Jim Sullivan, though Donovan's boast at the age of 22 that the girl he loves is "only fourteen but she knows how to draw" might raise more eyebrows now than then. This, Happiness Runs and the lovely Where Is She, featuring Harold McNair's delicate flute work, were recorded during the sessions for The Hurdy Gurdy Man album in May 1968, but following a falling out with producer Mickie Most the remaining tracks, along with To Susan... were recorded later in the year in Los Angeles with Gabriel Mekler producing and Richie Podolor at the desk, and sadly miss his production skills and John Cameron's skilled arrangements, and make the album a somewhat mixed rag-bag.
There was a hippie tendency at the time for musical teenage couples to regress occasionally into faux-childhood (step forward Principal Edward's Magic Theatre and the Incredible String Band, to cite but two), and the charmless I Love My Shirt (which had already been inexplicably favoured with release as a B-side in the UK) and embarrassingly forced sing-along Pamela Jo illustrate why this trend, of which Donovan could be particularly prone, should be stamped out.
For me, Happiness Runs (aka The Pebble And The Man) falls into the same category, though as the song was taken up over the years by Mary Hopkin, Bridget St John and the estimable Kate Bush, though with rather more success, perhaps I'll let it pass.
Listening to the bonus tracks one finds an attempt at a single that was rightly rejected, despite quite a decent B-side featuring acoustic guitar picking, but also an indisputable Donovan classic in The Swan (Lord Of The Reedy River). How this could have passed up in favour of fare such as The Love Song is inexplicable to me. Perhaps it was being held over as the song turned up in the film If It's Tuesday This Must Be Belgium in 1969, and was re-recorded for the 1971 album HMS Donovan.
This expanded issue ends on a more optimistic note with seven more successful (apart from the dreadful cod-reggae Palais Girl) raw demos recorded in February 1969 of songs that were mostly to turn up on future Donovan albums."