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" and "Atlantis," through jam-band covers by the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers ("There is a Mountain"), 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 1996's "Sutras" ("The Pied Piper," a children's 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 Donovan's folk roots, "Beat Café" is an extension of the heady rock/folk/pop/jazz/blues/world music brew that has become Donovan's 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 world-class 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 ("Poorman's Sunshine" and the title song), self-mocking blues ("Lord of the Universe"), and gentle spirituality ("Shambhala," "Do Not Go Gentle," the latter song an adaptation of Dylan Thomas's famous poem). The contemporary production values meld mystic chants, teasing wordplay, tender meditations and warm musical telepathy into a reaffirmation of Donovan's status as a unique musical visionary.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1946, Donovan's musical career started in England in the early Sixties, where his influences included musicians Martin Carthy, Woody Guthrie, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and a mixed bag of blues, jazz and folk songs. After appearing on the UK's seminal "Ready Steady Go" TV pop show for three consecutive weeks in late 1964, the 18-year-old Donovan found "Catch the Wind," his first single, ascending to Number 3 in the British music charts. Although inaccurately tarred with the tag of "Great Britain's Bob Dylan," Donovan's acoustic, folk-oriented songs were far more optimistic and inclusive than those of his media-perceived transatlantic counterpart, reflecting his love and respect for nature, peace and harmony.
Throughout the Sixties, Donovan's songs gradually shifted from wide-eyed folk to hip folk-rock, with the earnest innocence of "Catch the Wind" and "Colours" giving way to lighthearted, playful flower-power anthems like "Mellow Yellow" (which inspired the urban myth that smoking banana skins gets the user high), "Sunshine Superman," the calypso-flavored "There is a Mountain," "Hurdy Gurdy Man" and "Atlantis." Imaginative arrangements and topflight sessionmen such as Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones (both of Led Zeppelin), and the Jeff Beck Group (on the hit "Barabajagal") made each new Donovan single and album an unpredictable adventure for the duration of the Seventies and early Eighties. Perhaps his most surprising appearance was as guest vocalist on the title song of Alice Cooper's Number One-selling 1973 album, "Billion Dollar Babies," but Donovan can also be heard in the background of a Beatles song or two (and vice versa).
As his recording output slowed in the Eighties, Donovan and his family moved to Joshua Tree, California, for a period of rest and creative recharging before returning to the United Kingdom in 1990 to tour, to work on his autobiography and to write new songs.
In 1996, Donovan recorded his "Sutras" album with the unlikely figure of Rick Rubin, best known for working with metal and rap bands, as producer of this auspicious return to a folk-oriented sound, which was met with popular and critical applause. Overseas, a collaborative version of "Atlantis" by the German group No Angels and Donovan hit Number 5 on the German charts in 2001 and sold over 500,000 copies.
More recently, Donovan's contributions to music and poetry were recognized with the award of an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the University of Hertfordshire in 2003. In the summer of 2004, early recordings by Donovan are being issued in the UK as "Sixty Four," marking Donovan's fortieth anniversary as a performer.
The release of "Beat Café" renews the six-year-old relationship between Donovan and Appleseed Recordings. Donovan contributed a specially-recorded version of "My Rainbow Race" to the first of our three tributes to Pete Seeger's music, 1998's award-winning "Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 1." Donovan selected Appleseed to release his new CD over offers from far larger companies because of the label's independent and idealistic outlook, which meshes perfectly with this
project and his own countercultural philosophy.