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HMS Donovan

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Album Review

Anyone who likes the Donovan of "Sunshine Superman" or "Mellow Yellow" will probably want to ignore this album — but anyone who liked the Donovan of "Colours," "Turquoise," or "Poor Cow," or A Gift from a Flower to a Garden, will have to track it down, because they'll find it essential. One has to give Donovan a lot of credit for attempting a release like HMS Donovan in 1971, although it never came close to charting at the time of its release. The drugged-out hippie era that had spawned trippy folk-based albums such as A Gift from a Flower to a Garden was long past, and acoustic folk recordings were considered passe, yet here was Donovan setting words by Lewis Carroll, Thora Stowell, Ffrida Wolfe, Agnes Grozier Herbertson, Lucy Diamond, Edward Lear, Eugene Field, William Butler Yeats, Natalie Joan, and Thomas Hood, among others, to what were often hauntingly beautiful melodies, mostly strummed on a guitar. What's more, it just about all works perfectly, once one gets past the tape-effect tricks and other silliness of the opening track, "The Walrus and the Carpenter." Spawned at a time when the singer/songwriter was about to become a father, the album has a decidedly playful tone, even more so than its obvious predecessor, For Little Ones. Lovely as that record was, there are also long stretches of HMS Donovan that have far prettier melodies, arrangements, and accompaniment, played at more attractive tempos. The playing here, which is mostly just Donovan's solo guitar with maybe a string bass and organ, and an unnamed female singer or two backing him on a few tracks, is crisper and more focused (along with the recording), and the tunes are seldom short of gorgeous, whether written by Donovan or simply his arrangements of traditional folk melodies. HMS Donovan marked the singer's last venture of this kind, into his mid-/late-'60s folk style, or into folk-style children's songs, and it was the last of his albums to be characterized by whimsy. As a sign of some of the behind-the-scenes tensions that characterized its production, HMS Donovan contains one attempt at a rock track, in the form of "Homesickness" — this failed attempt to emulate such late-'60s singles as "Hurdy Gurdy Man" is the only failed track on the album, and was also the only track here on which Donovan's longtime producer Mickie Most had any input. "Lord of the Dance" (written by Sydney Carter and utilizing a melody that Americans may know better as "Simple Gifts"), "Queen Mab," and "Celia of the Seals" are worth the price of admission by themselves.

Biography

Born: 10 May 1946 in Glasgow, Scotland

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Upon his emergence during the mid-'60s, Donovan was anointed "Britain's answer to Bob Dylan," a facile but largely unfounded comparison which compromised the Scottish folk-pop troubadour's own unique vision. Where the thrust of Dylan's music remains its bleak introspection and bitter realism, Donovan fully embraced the wide-eyed optimism of the flower power movement, his ethereal, ornate songs radiating a mystical beauty and childlike wonder; for better or worse, his recordings remain quintessential...
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