Barabajagal (Epic 26481)
This would make a smashing choice for Legacy to remaster, perhaps bringing some light to one of the coolest and most unheralded rock albums of the 60s. Normally, you put on a record from 1968 and I will almost immediately start to fidget, but Barabajagal holds my interest all the way through. Donovan's super-soft pop-rockin' presages Belle & Sebastian's, though admittedly with much more of a hippie flavor. This is easily his best album, and song for song, it's right up there with any psychedelic-era albums you can name.
Some of the songs are so good it's a wonder they haven't been discovered and used in movie soundtracks. "Where is She" is just screaming to be used in a romantic comedy, but it would have to be a romantic comedy more like "Harold and Maude" than "Never Been Kissed." Of course, there is the classic "I Love My Shirt," which is why I bought the album in the first place. You have to love a song that celebrates one's wardrobe, especially one that sounds like it was written for the Muppets. And then there is "Atlantis," probably the most well-known song on the album a "Hey Jude" styled epic for the comic book crowd, and surprisingly, it's not programmed last. How could you not be engaged by a song that features a singer improvising the phrase "My antediluvian baby?"
Lots of tiny, brilliant little moments abound. "Happiness Runs," a song so fragile it almost sounds like it isn't there until the chorus kicks in, in rounds no less. "Superlungs My Supergirl," a psych-out rock song that features the great line "She's only 14, but she knows how to draw." "To Susan on the West Coast Waiting," a non-boring Vietnam-themed song. I apologize wholeheartedly to Vietnam veterans, but owing to the deluge of Vietnam-related films in the mid to late 80s I am utterly desensitized to that whole era. I can't help it, your private hell totally bores me. But at least I like this song very much.
Wow, and how could I forget about "The Love Song," that's my favorite track on the disc! What a great one, sort of a ragtime-meets-boogie-meets-the-hippies that starts out as almost bubblegum pop and ends with a crowd of people doing the Vulture. Fantastic! "Barabajagal" itself, a funky rock song recorded with the Jeff Beck group, is probably a big draw for rock fans, but it's not my favorite on here at all. "Trudi," also with Beck and Co., just kinda sits there for me, despite a nice breakbeat intro. I always go for the sissy pop songs, the ragtimier the better. Hence, give me "Pamela Jo," which is so pop it could be from a Disney cartoon. Donovan sure likes his singalongs. I think at least four tracks on this album contain singalongs. It's like he would just invite everyone he knew over while he was recording, and encouraged them to sing. Well, good for him. People should do that more often. You can't go wrong with a singalong, unless it's frat boys.
A really great album, deserving of more accolades. Maybe with the recent resurgence in Cat Stevens's popularity, people will start rediscovering Donovan. It's too bad the CD itself sounds like ass. Note to Legacy: please remaster immediately, with restored artwork, bonus tracks, and brilliant box. Thank you, and be sure to send me a copy as soon as it's ready. (I realize I should cease with the delusion that my critical opinion carries any weight whatsoever, but I seize every available opportunity to get free CDs.)
Review by Scott Pooney