Donovan Beat Cafe Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

A willingness to experiment is something which has always come easy to Donovan...

Mick Fitzsimmons 2004

A willingness to experiment is something which has always come easy to Donovan ever since he shook off the Bob Dylan comparisons which dogged his early career. As he says in his sleeve notes to this album, it's an attempt at redefining acoustic instruments for trio performance. So, in place of the expected folkie strumming, the album is dominated by soft jazzy shuffles, underpinned by the superlative bass playing of Danny Thompson and Jim Keltner's deft drumming.

It's all perfectly in keeping with the album's beatnik atmosphere, harking back to the coffee houses and jazz clubs in which Donovan learned his trade. The lyrics zing with Ginsberg word play, offering Buddhist meditations on love and life all delivered with Donovan's precise and occasionally arch phrasing.

The playing throughout is a joy, with Thompson's bass well to the fore and Donovan's guitar a subtle presence in the background. Highlights include the slinky title track and the chant driven "The Question", which barrels along on a delightfully funky little groove while Donovan sings of silent forests and secret goddesses. It's just what we've come to expect from the Glaswegian hippy icon and no less welcome for it.

Less successful is the attempt to transform Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" into some kind of Kerouac hipster jazz workout, the stark formalism of Thomas' verse ill suited to the improvisatory backing. Likewise, a cover of traditional standard "The Cuckoo" comes across as vaguely perfunctory. Overall, however, this is a warm, intimate collection of jazz/folk numbers from a highly underrated and idiosyncratic artist which should reward repeated plays.

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