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That shimmering, intimate voice . . . the poetic, seductive lyrics . . . the dreamy, hazy music that surrounds them . . . From folksinger to flower-child to timeless musical poet, Donovan and his distinctive, magical songs have become familiar to decades of music fans since the early Sixties through hit singles like "Mellow Yellow," "Sunshine Superman," "The Hurdy Gurdy Man," "Catch the Wind," "Colours," "There is a Mountain" and "Atlantis," in TV and movie soundtracks and commercials, and on a precious, infrequent trickle of new releases.
"Beat Café" is the first new Donovan CD for grown-ups since 1996s "Sutras" ("The Pied Piper," a childrens CD, was issued in 2002). While "Sutras," produced and released by Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash, the Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mick Jagger) emphasized Donovans folk roots, "Beat Café" is an extension of the heady rock/folk/pop/jazz/blues/world music brew that has become Donovans trademark.
To capture the spirit of the Bohemian café happenings dating back to 1840s Paris that combined philosophy, poetry and free thought and inspired this CD, Donovan enlisted multiple Grammy-winner John Chelew (Blind Boys of Alabama, Richard Thompson, John Hiatt) as producer and keyboardist and the worldclass rhythm section of folk/jazz double bassist and longtime Donovan accompanist Danny Thompson (Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, The Pentangle, John Martyn) and drummer/percussionist Jim Keltner (Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, George Harrison, many more). Applying a "no fixed arrangements" approach to foster the proper mood of spontaneity, Donovan (vocals, guitars) and his cohorts have created a lusciously atmospheric collection of eleven new original Donovan compositions plus a cover of the folk standard "The Cuckoo."
This "beat café" of the mind is a sensuous, smoky den of fevered seduction (the hypnotic "Love Floats," "Yin My Yang," "Two Lovers," "Whirlwind"), jazzy, finger-snapping hipness ("Poormans Sunshine" and the title song), death-mocking blues ("Lord of the Universe"), and gentle spirituality ("Shambhala," "Do Not Go Gentle," the latter song an adaptation of Dylan Thomass famous poem). The contemporary production values meld mystic chants, teasing wordplay, tender meditations and warm musical telepathy into a reaffirmation of Donovans status as a unique and vibrant musical visionary.
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 AllenSee all Editorial Reviews
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It's so amazing that Donovan is back and sounds as good as he does, 40 years after I first discovered him. And he's not some nostalgia act; he's doing important new groundbreaking work! He sounds great too.
"Beat Cafe" finds him swaggering with an acoustic trio in deliberately "hip" arrangements which, in lesser hands, could have been cloying. But this is never overplayed, never broad, never tongue-in-cheek -- just a very relaxed set of neo-beatnik grooves which he, alone among his contemporaries, has the cachet to perform with authenticity.
Did I mention cool?
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