Donovan, the British folkie and poor man's Bob Dylan best known for '60s and '70s Flower Power opuses like "Season of the Witch" and "Sunshine Superman," takes a slightly self-indulgent but utterly intriguing turn here on ... more »his first album in eight years. Backed by a deft band of ace session musicians, Donovan serves up a spacey, electronica-laden tribute to one of his most enduring influences: the Beat poets (Ginsberg, Burroughs, et. al.) of yesteryear. A few of these cuts, like "Two Lovers," "Yin My Yang," and "The Question," are merely dazzling word play set to hot licks. But others--"Poor Man's Sunshine," "Lord of the Universe," and "Do Not Go Gentle" (a hip-hoppish variation on a famous Dylan Thomas poem)--resonate with the eerie power of spacey elevator music from U2's loopy Zooropa phase while briefly showcasing Donovan in all the whispery, flower-draped splendor of his salad days. -- Bob Allen« less
Donovan, the British folkie and poor man's Bob Dylan best known for '60s and '70s Flower Power opuses like "Season of the Witch" and "Sunshine Superman," takes a slightly self-indulgent but utterly intriguing turn here on his first album in eight years. Backed by a deft band of ace session musicians, Donovan serves up a spacey, electronica-laden tribute to one of his most enduring influences: the Beat poets (Ginsberg, Burroughs, et. al.) of yesteryear. A few of these cuts, like "Two Lovers," "Yin My Yang," and "The Question," are merely dazzling word play set to hot licks. But others--"Poor Man's Sunshine," "Lord of the Universe," and "Do Not Go Gentle" (a hip-hoppish variation on a famous Dylan Thomas poem)--resonate with the eerie power of spacey elevator music from U2's loopy Zooropa phase while briefly showcasing Donovan in all the whispery, flower-draped splendor of his salad days. -- Bob Allen
"After a forty year run as the master of Mellow, not much has changed on Planet Donovan. The wisdom is still as abundant as the weed; poets in berets still blow saxes in the coffeehouse at night, and flowers still don heads of bushy hair in the audience. The man himself may be a little older now, but that doesn't mean that he's not coming on:
If I was your lover I'd take you to the sky If you are feeling low I will make you high Let me be your lover baby I will be your beau
This is not exactly the language of a man taking his social security check to the bank on the way to the golf course. In fact, Beat Café is an album that delivers the urgency and freshness one might expect from the debut album of a 20-something nobody, no less a nearly 60-year old flower-child of the original Woodstock generation.
Hushed and haunted, Beat Café plays like a long, seductive whisper from somewhere within the listener's consciousness - a knowing and familiar voice spreading the rumor that utopia is not something that happens in the external world, but rather within the self. It is a sunrise of the soul; a placid and breezy terrain the mind brings you to when the gates of its imagination are unlocked. "Gonna do all the things I've never done before, gonna get myself together somehow," Donovan sings on the downright wicked "The Question." Many of these new tunes expand upon the kind of optimism with which Donovan managed to pit himself against that brooding, bitter and more famous American counterpart, Bob Dylan.
Unlike Donovan's last album - the spare but alluring Sutras produced by Rick Rubin for American Recordings in 1996 - Beat Café explodes into a varied and distinctive musical brew. Danny Thompson's bass playing is worthy of Apollo's crown, and the legendary Jim Keltner turns in a surprisingly hip performance on drums and percussion, managing to keep up with Donovan as he slips in and out of beat after groovy beat.
Whereas Rubin seemed to make a Rick Rubin record of Sutras - mired as it was in his minimalist approach - John Chelew allows for the making of a Donovan record this time around. Chelew, whose resume includes work with John Hiatt and Richard Thompson, proves a more sympathetic cohort throughout this musically fascinating project, even lending a hand on keyboards throughout the set. The atmosphere is much more relaxed and suggests that the artist was allowed to breathe freely during these sessions.
The only resemblance between this latest album and Sutras is the mystic airiness of Donovan's lyrics, an eastern spiritualism cloaked in the psychedelic lexicon Donovan continues to employ. "You yin my yang/I'll yang your yin," he directs on "Yin My Yang." For an album as overtly conscious of its heritage as this one, it seems almost obligatory that Donovan would nod to Oar, Alexander "Skip" Spence's masterpiece of psychedelic folk/rock from 1969. "I could use me some yin for my yang," Spence sings on his "Dixie Peach Promenade (yin for yang)," "that would make everything alright." Spence's work is not only a direct echo of Donovan's "Yin My Yang," but of the entire universe Beat Café evokes - from its "beatnik café" where "the reefer blow" to the time and place where "there'll be music in the air/flowers in your hair/life without a care."
But where the nostalgic lyrics retread familiar territory, the music reinvents an artist in his fifth decade as a performer. The beautifully brittle "Shambala" closes the album with a moving dream of yearning, escape and resignation:
Take me home back to Shambala where peaceful rivers flow Take me home back to Shambala Where seeds of love they sow
The appropriately titled "Whirlwind" - a song that wins the "coolest groove of the year" award - is dark and sly enough to suffice as the soundtrack for a landfalling hurricane. Most startling, though, is Donovan's impassioned cover of the folk standard, "The Cuckoo" which, amid so many interpretations of the well-traveled song, ranks as one of the most commanding and memorable.
Really, though, only Donovan's own smooth voice manages to outdo Danny Thompson's pervasive double bass, which thumps and groans through every minute of the album, lending a jazzy depth to the distinctly international sound Donovan achieves here. Thompson raises "The Question" into a kind of frenetic street march through "the darkest hour of night," while abrupt solos on "Love floats" or the instant classic, "Poorman's Sunshine," fuse these songs with the spontaneity of a particularly inspired demo. It bears mentioning that Donovan tosses some killer guitar licks of his own into the mix, most notably on the deliciously fiendish title track.
After following up a prolific period of creativity in the 70s with two decades of piercing silence, the release of a new Donovan album is unlikely enough. That the man would emerge out of nowhere with the coolest album of the year nearly forty years after his debut is nothing short of astonishing. Beat Café is further proof that something incredible happened in the decade of assassinations, flowers and weather factions, and the story is still far from over. "
Revenge of the troubador poets
J. Mello | Maine,USA | 09/01/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Unexpectedly,Donovan has snuck beneath the music industry radar with a great new CD that invokes and reincarnates the spirit of the Beat poets. Himself a witness to,and participant in,the Beat explosion of the 60's, Donovan taps into that spirit(and it's roots in the 40's and 50's),exhumes it,and incarnates it in the hear and now, bringing us a delightful CD of beat infused jazzy tunes. Like a breath of fresh air, Donovan sings, speaks, and chants to spontaneous rhythms that reach back to the coffehouses of the time and achieves his goal of creating a "beat virtual-cafe". Wonderfully accompanied by session stalwart,Jim Keltner(who has never sounded so freed up),and Danny Thompson,an acknowledged wizard on stand-up bass,with some B3 organ thrown in for good measure and atmosphere by his producer, John Chelew, Donovan weaves his spell of love songs and mystical ideas which fly in the face of the current musical climate. Resurrecting poems like "Two Lovers" which hale from that golden age, and adding spot on "beat readings" of new songs, Donovan breaths new life into that old, nearly forgotten spirit, culminating in a beat dream rendition of Dylan Thomas's poem "Do Not Go Gentle" ,which serves not only as a sterling example of the Beat's dream of fusing music and poetry, but also serves as a metaphor for these dark times when artists are stifled by the repressive atmosphere of the post 9/11 culture, rife with debates and control over "intellectual properties". The song serves also as a reminder of Donovan's,and all of our journeys, toward death and aging. In it he rasps like some new age Robert Burns channeling the spirit of the Scottish Bard. While sounding at times almost like rap,and at others invoking the minimalist spirit of Jack Johnson, Donovan,in the liner notes, appeals to younger artists "to experiment in the studio, to return to the root sounds". He has accomplished this himself, not only returning to his roots, but also sharing the fruits of those roots grown in the soil of experience. This CD is nostalgic in the root sense of the word, a return to a spiritual "home". Unlike many of his contemporaries,Donovan's voice hasn't lost a thing, his mellow,soothing tones and trademark vibrato are alive and well. For those who have frozen Donovan into some hippie past, this CD should help them to catch up with him in this back-to-the-future release. Because Donovan has been perennially underrated and underheard, this CD should help him gain recognition for his entire body of work, which compares favorably with the best of his contemporaries,and has continued on unbroken since the 60's."
Texburgh | Kansas | 09/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It has happened again. Just as it did over 30 years ago when I first heard the album "Fairy Tale" by Donovan. Back then I had never heard anything quite like it and it started a long love of folk music for me.
I convinced my parents to buy me "A Gift From a Flower to a Garden" for my birthday without having heard the album. It was based on my established appreciation of Donovan but when I first put the disc on the turntable I was blown away. These were songs unlike any I had heard before. How could anyone make music so simple and yet so beautiful. Lyrically and musically Donovan had stripped it all down and, in so doing, had created something magical. I was sure it could never get better.
But when I bought "Barabajagal" I was blown away again. This was the same guy who sang "Isle of Islay" and "Widow with a Shawl" now putting together numbers with Jeff Beck that were just astounding. Where did this mix of folk and rock and jazz come from? It was Donovan of course doing what Donovan did best - moving on and trying something new and doing it perfectly.
He kept this up all through Cosmic Wheels and then something seemed to go wrong. The seventies albums (7-Tease, Essence to Essence, Slow Down World, and Donovan) were starting to sound like work. This was the stuff that said, "Time to make an album." There was the occasional bit of brilliance but on the whole they were bland. I figured this was the end of a great career. It seemed to be when Donovan virtually disappeared.
When he released Sutras in 1996 I looked at it and pondered buying it but it had been a long time since I'd heard really good new Donovan work and I passed.
Fast forward to 2004. I'm driving along the Kansas turnpike when I hear this familiar voice on a song I had never heard before. And the music was tremendous. The announcer came on to say this was from Donovan's new album "Beat Café."
I went to buy this new CD and couldn't find it at the record store. But I did pick up a copy of Sutras for $4.99. Sutras is a CD I should have bought in 1996 so I could have been listening to it for eight years. It takes Donovan out of his seventies slump and shows us once again the brilliance that made so much great music back in the sixties.
When I finally found a copy of "Beat Café" it took only about the first thirty seconds before I was back just as I was when I first heard "Starfish on the Toast" or "Barabajagal." I was blown away. And not because I was listening to music just like on the earlier albums but because this was Donovan once again going where no one else has been. This album is unbelievable. The muse has not deserted this man, it's just taken him down another road. This is jazz and funk and mysticism all rolled into one. It's my daughter saying, "Dad, I didn't know you listened to hip hop." And it is all good. From the jazzy "Love Floats" to the blues of "Lord of the Universe," to the mystical "Whirlwind," to the Memphis rockabilly of "The Cuckoo," and the hip-hop/rap inspired "The Question."
One of the greatest artists of the sixties is still a great artist today. Buy it!
I can't say it loud enough. Donovan is still with us and Beat Café is not just some throwback to an aging pop star's past. It is now and it is great. Put this in the CD player, turn it up and get blown away. "
Donovan Does It Right!
Kenneth M. Goodman | Cleveland, Ohio United States | 09/07/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Donovan really delivers on the promise of a "smoky" Beatnick Cafe atmosphere on ALL tracks. There are no typical Beatnick cliches, just super kewl stand-up bass/drums matching his hipster guitar and vocal style, with splashes of vibes and keyboard. In my opinion, Donovan finally got it right: an entire CD of well-written and performed songs. Fire up your "incense," turn your lights down low and let this artful CD transport you to the Universal Beat Cafe. "
Great Donovan Album
mirrortime | Central, Oregon | 10/14/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a great Donovan album. After a few lsitens it will envelope you. This album is... smooth, cool and musically visual. Excellent production also. His voice is absolutely perfect and sounds exactly like it did in 1966. This songs are very well writen and simple. It's like taking a time machine at some points. Seems like he's realized that he can sound like he did in the 60's and still be who he is today. A hard thing to do with any artist but he really pulls it off here. Will we be listening to this in in 2034? I'm sure I will be. Lay your head back and let the master of cosmic music take you "there". You will not regret it. An album that will be with you through the years."