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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Donovan

Mellow Yellow

Review by Gary Hill

Perhaps more than just about any other artist Donovan seems an integral part of the 1960's. His optimistic approach seems to make him the perfect flower child. While others might have been a bigger force in that movement, in some ways Donovan has become more closely connected forever with it. This album was released in 1967 and is one of the more diverse collections the artist created. There are elements of the folk music that birthed Donovan's sound and psychedelia. Both of those would be easy to anticipate. However, there are also links to jazz and blues that seem to be a bit more of a stretch. Overall this album is a solid one, but some of the material doesn't hold up that well in the current day and age. As a time capsule of a different era, though, this is a masterpiece.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Mellow Yellow
Percussion starts the title cut. As the other instruments and voice join this is a bouncy, slightly weird and just a little psychedelic pop rock jam. The arrangement takes on a funny jazz sort of arrangement at a couple points later. This one is a classic.
Writer In the Sun
A flute leads this one off in a sedate sort of flittering. As it carries forward for the vocals it is still very sedate and slow with a mellow '60's balladic texture. While there are definite elements that call to mind the psychedelic era of The Beatles, I wouldn't really call this Beatlesesque so much. This also shows some tendencies towards very early progressive rock. This is one of my personal favorites on the disc, even if it is a bit of an unusual choice.
Sand and Foam
Acoustic guitar leads this off and we are taken on a folky sort of balladic journey from there. This is another fairly simple, but very strong piece of music. It's another of my picks "not to miss" on this disc. The arrangement is quite evocative.
The Observation
A jazzy rhythm section starts this one off. The song in general is sort of psychedelic take on jazz and the whole beat poet movement. This is bouncy and fun, but not one of my favorites here. I don't think it holds up as well as some of the other material. There are moments when it feels like it might fit in some jazz-based Broadway musical. The more rocking segment is fun, but still a bit too dated in texture to really work for me these days.
Bleak City Woman
When the jazz introduction on this one comes in you might think you are listening to Louis Armstrong or one of his contemporaries. This one has a great bluesy texture and while the jazz influence that has shown up from time to time on this album is dominant here, it works quite well. This one has a great texture and is lots of fun. It's also one of the highlights of the CD.
House of Jansch
A bluesy sort of acoustic guitar starts this, but the vocals find Donovan at his hippie best. This one is nice ballad, but not one of the standouts of the disc. Still, it doesn't miss by much.
Young Girl Blues
Based on acoustic guitar, the overall texture of this song is simply incredible. It's just a slow ballad approach, but the emotional textures evoked are pretty awesome. As simple as the concept is, the magic is in the delivery. This is quite possibly my second favorite song on the disc.
Museum
Another playful one, this has more of a full arrangement - and one that's more typical of Donovan's typical psychedelic approach. It feels a bit too much like another of his hits "Sunshine Superman," though. For that reason this one is just not all that special.
Hamstead Incident
Here's another of the highlights, and in fact I'd say this is my favorite piece on show here. This is another that is based on a ballad styling, but reaches so far beyond that motif. It simply oozes atmosphere and drama. The musical theme that serves as the backdrop feels a bit like "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" by Led Zeppelin, but even that doesn't capture this. The cut has layers of strings and an especially effective vocal performance to make this one incredibly special. Then it shifts out later to a killer jazzy sort of jam that is another nice touch. The arrangement on this is probably more complete than any of the other music here. It is certain to me that nothing here is more effective. This one is worth the ticket price even by itself.
Sunny South Kensington
More jazz textures start this one off, this time with just a hint of dissonance and awkwardness. This doesn't last long, though, instead just serving as the introduction. A jingle jangle guitar progression enters to create a pretty typical Byrds type jam with some of the most hippie-oriented lyrics of the whole disc. This one is a nice little piece of psychedelia. It just doesn't hold up so well today.
 
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