This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is number forty seven in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of vinyl albums in my personal collection.
The series is called, “Cream of The Crate”, and they represent vinyl albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.
The sixties gave birth to a number of musical genre’s, while extending others that more often than not had their roots in the USA. Such an extended genre was the loosely labeled ‘folk’ music which covered a number of styles, although before the appearance of Bob Dylan, was always played with acoustic guitar.
This album is “Open Road“, by Donavon Leitch (better known simply as Donavon).
The album was released in the USA around July 1970 and in the UK in September 1970. In the USA it was released on Epic Records (E 30125) and in the UK on Dawn Records (DNLS 3009).
My copy is the American Epic Release.
It is in fact the eighth album by Donavon who was a successful and fairly prolific recording artist, who between 1965 and 2013 released 26 albums.
I have a number of Donavon albums in my collection including the 1966 Sunshine Superman and the 1969 Barabajagal albums.
While stylistically different, in fact all his albums leading to “Open Road” have strengths.
Be aware, the album “Open Road” does not contain any of Donavon’s classic hits, and in fact if you want an album of ‘Classic Hits’, you can’t go past the album ‘Donavon’s Greatest Hits‘, which came out in January 1969, a copy which resides in my vinyl crate.
One thing noteworthy thing about the “Open Road“: album was that it was also the first album by his group, also called Open Road.
The band consisted of drummer John Carr, keyboardist Mike O’Neil and bass and guitar player Mike Thomson.
Donavon once described the music the band played as, “Celtic Rock” and that is a reasonable description, although at times some tracks stretch that description.
Somewhat sadly, once the album had been produced, Donavon went his own way and the band gradually sunk into obscurity.
Prior to this album, Donovan had worked largely from 1967 out of the USA, and had a long association with “Uber” Producer Mickey Most. However in 1970 he returned to Britain to begin work on this album, which Most produced.
That’s one of the major reasons I like this album. It is grittier and earthier than previous albums. This is has a clean, smooth, seamless sound – but it’s almost an over-produced album, but it just retains enough of the natural sound of Donavon.
In fact the album was Donovan’s first album of the 1970’s. Gone are the psychedelic trappings of previous years and in their place are a collection of sharp Celtic influenced folk-rock tracks.
Overall, “Open Road” has a great sound to it with some fantastic compositions.
02. Song For John
03. Curry Land
04. Joe Bean’s Theme
05. People Used To
06. Celtic Rock
07. Riki Tiki Tavi
08. Clara Clairvoyant
09. Roots Of Oak
10. Season Of Farewell
11. Poke At The Pope
12. New Years Resolution
Another thing I admired about Donavon was the way he refused to get embroiled in the idiotic Dylan Vs Donavon ‘debate’ the was happening in the 60’s.
This is despite making the mistake of playing a song he wrote, that was based upon a Dylan composition, to Dylan.
The response wasn’t pretty!.
Yet it isn’t hard to argue that Dylan was in a league of his own and while his music was generally far more powerful than Donavon’s, and certainly more ‘socially cutting’, that didn’t mean Donavon didn’t make social criticisms through his music.
None were more evident than “Poke At The Pope“, which not so strangely, is still as relevant to day as when Donavon wrote it.
Have you ever seen a picture of Pope Paul?
Have you ever asked yourself this question,
Would you trust this man with your soul now?
Would you trust this man? ask yourself now
His eyes are sunken and his cheeks are hollow
While you dig the poor of the world they follow
He hoarding up their gold in the Vatican
Would you trust this man? ask yourself now
A poke at the Pope, that’s what we’re havin’
Ave Maria, Ave Maria…
Do you remember when the floods hit Italy?
How the things they treasured most were destroyed
All the paintings and the worshipped images
‘Cos they lost their faith in the real God
He’s goin’ down and he’s goin’ down fast
You really didn’t think the ignorance could last
All the little children are learning
And the constellation is turning.
A poke at the Pope, that’s what we’re havin’
Mumbling by the tumbling tide
The kind of America humbly cried
Save my soul, save it soon!
The king of America fell in swoon
Oh yea, my honey, Oh yea my honey…
Poke At The Pope
I also appreciated the cleverness of Donavon’s compositions.
“Riki Tiki Tavi” is a character. It’s a mongoose who features in the story the Jungle Book.
On the surface it would appear that Donavon has composed and sung a song about this little story hero, a light hearted, easy to sing along with track.
In fact Donavon it was far deeper. He was using Riki to warn that like things are not what they seem on the surface, and this was applied to both the political movements of the day, as well as some developing ecological movements.
Riki Tiki Tavi appears to be a hero because he kills snakes, but, snakes have a very important part to play in the bigger picture of politics.
Riki Tiki Tavi
“Clara Clairvoyant” is another indirect ‘hit’ at the Catholic Church by Donavon. While not as clever as “Poke at the Pope” it was still a very good track, with a very pointed message.
Here are some of the lyrics.
Her consultation is 10 to 4
In the box from 3 to 4
In the shadow
Leave genitals at the door
Oh oh oh, but but tut tut
Have you any perversion to confess
To the lumpy cassock on the other side
It’s a simple song construction, not demanding, but then again the majority of Donavon’s music are simple in construction.
His strength is his ‘elfish’ edge to his singing, the ease of delivery and an honesty about him that was endearing to his fans.
Donovan tries for a more complex construction to his music production in the next track, in what some have called ‘revved-up emotion’s.
It is certainly a more complex song structure with a better example of interesting chord changes and a ‘denser’ overall sound,.
The track is “Curry Land‘.
There is almost a dichotomy between the simple piano led verses, and, the ‘pomposity’ of the choral style chorus. It works and it works well.
Donavon actually comes close to the pop tune with this piece.
Finally, it’s not all great pieces of work on this album.
“Celtic Rock” may have been a reasonable description of the music style but as for the track by that name?
Putting it bluntly, it’s rubbish!
I guess there is no point trying to put myself into Donavon’s head-space, I couldn’t. It is almost like he was desperate to prove his ‘Celtic Roots’, with his imitation tribal chanting
To my ears the only redeeming feature is the ‘pumping piano’, which from my perspective and personal music ‘bent’, is more closely associated with some sort of sonic experiment than a complimentary music style.
It may be the by 1970 Donavon was moving from Cool to Un-cool.
Let’s not forget we were moving into the ream of Black Sabbath, Yes, and Led Zepplin period.
Although he certainly kept working and recording, in many ways in my mind, the remainder of the 1970’s were the ‘lost’ years for Donavon.
His trusty ‘folk roots’ melded with a pop perspective and an ‘elfish’ approach to his audience, simply no longer cut it with the post ‘Altamont’ scene.
The innocence that was lost At this time reverberated throughout the music world, and Donavon was not insulated from the fall-out.
Yet he quietly continued on, continuing to try, to various degrees of success, to keep himself relevant, even though his support base was no longer as big as it was during his halcyon days of the 1960’s.
He has released 26 studio and 8 live albums albums during his amazing career, and his latest effort was the 2013 release – “Shadows of Blue“.
In November 2003, Donovan was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Hertfordshire.
On the 14th April 2012 Donovan was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He is a survivor and not simply based upon his longevity of life, but on the longevity of his music!
Obviously many people do not agree with me that the album is a must for collectors, as there are a plethora of copies available for crazy low prices.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find any live clips of tracks on this album.
So here are a few “classics”.
Catch The Wind
Hurdy Girdy Man
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
Click to open: