Donovan - Beat Cafe

Beat Café


First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2004, Volume 11, #9

Written by John Metzger


Over the course of the past two decades, Donovan has spent more time enjoying his reclusive retirement than he has devoted to making new albums. Although fans undoubtedly would love to see him emerge from his self-imposed exile a tad more frequently, it also is difficult to quibble with his strategy given that each effort he puts forth is so impeccably crafted. On his previous endeavor Sutras, he shed the psychedelic layers of his best-known songs, opting instead to bathe his metaphysical musings on the interconnections between love and spirituality within the intimately warm glow of his early acoustic outings. Eight years later, Donovan has resurfaced with Beat Café, a conceptual piece that finds the Scottish-born songwriter turning a romanticized eye toward the freethinking, Bohemian subculture that has flourished throughout the world for more than 150 years. In essence, he is fighting to keep the fire burning for a movement that connects 1850s Paris with the existentialist intellectuals of the 1930s, the beatniks of the 1950s, and the folk music revivalists and spiritual idealists of the 1960s.

Despite a few subtle nods to hip-hop and soul, however, Beat Café probably won’t inspire a new generation of artists to unite within a virtual community. After all, its songs are far too closely connected to the sounds of a bygone era for today’s youth to take heed of the collection’s existence. On the other hand, the album is likely to please Donovan’s longtime fans, particularly those who are willing to venture beyond his hits and follow him into more erudite and esoteric territory that extends his heady brew of jazz, folk, pop, and blues by infusing it with a breezy blast of fresh perspective. Although traces of Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow respectively filter through Poor Man’s Sunshine and the title track, making the collection a tad more accessible than Sutras’ atmospheric revelations, the bulk of the material belongs as much to bass player Danny Thompson and drummer Jim Keltner as it does to Donovan. Whether providing the hazy undercurrent to a beatnik reading of Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle or the snaky groove that propels Love Floats, Thompson playfully develops rhythms that dance freely as Keltner paints the corners of the songs with a light touch of airy percussion.

In an age when art has been co-opted by oversized conglomerates more concerned with selling product than painting a portrait of the human soul, Donovan’s Beat Café shines as a bright beacon of hope for those seeking something more enlightening. In other words, it isn’t a cold and calculated slice of super-sized mediocrity that will invade the culture through endless repetition on television commercials, talk shows, and radio programs. Instead, it’s a warm, inviting, and organic endeavor — the type of creation that causes one to feel the heartbeat of life itself at a time when most don’t even know that such a thing exists. starstarstarstar

Beat Café is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2004 The Music Box