Dan Donovan, no not the one one from Big Audio Dynamite, but the one from the Fens, whose dad was a Welsh preacher, is an artist of unique imagination. He will openly cite Tom Waits and Bob Dylan as his influence and that is pretty perfect. His voice lands somewhere between the two, Dylan wishes he Donovan’s vocal robustness and Waits would love his tunefulness. Donovan has all Waits’ gruffalo grit but is so much more accessibility.
12_12 Sessions is a great introduction to Donovan. If you haven’t yet the joys of his twelve records then here you have one song from all of them but reinvented for acoustic arrangement. The band are rough edged, loose but powerful. For those with wider palette David Eugene Edwards from 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand comes to mind; that goth rock harmonica.
There is a book with the album that gives you Donovan’s photography as well as the lyrics. It’s a tasty piece of art in itself. As well as the lyrics Donovan gives a line or two about each song. Underneath my favourite Donovan song, the tender Fragile Flame from 1993’s Dust Shaker record, he writes, “Daily, through the eyes of the media I see brazen toughness twinned with brokenness, we as humans are forever an extreme race. And such is my relationship with humanity.”
I guess this glimpse across Donovan’s recording career and the last 30 years of his life reveals exactly that. Subjectively we find his own love affairs and heartache, his own struggles to fit into his own world. Beyond that there are objective songs about the love and heartbreak of humanity and the struggle to find religion that is not warped too.
For me 12_12 Session had me falling in love, once again, with the songs I was most familiar with from the 90s, the aforementioned Fragile Flame, as well as Blind Lead The Blind, Tick Tock Tim and the great wrestle with God of So Dance but also led me into later Donovan that I sinfully not paid attention to like I Love and Dirdy Day.
So Dance is worth the price of the ticket on its own. Goodness, the emotion of soul.
Playing it all the way through I ended in the moment’s silence after thinking that Dylan and Waits had been blended perfectly and come out as a think of blurred beauty. It’s rugged and tough in the most gorgeous of ways. Expect weird artistic noises and dramatic effect too. Dan Donovan is a wonderfully unique voice indeed!