Open Road (Donovan album)
|Studio album by Donovan|
|Studio||Morgan Studios, London, UK|
|Genre||Folk rock, Psychedelic rock, Celtic rock|
|Open Road chronology|
Open Road is the eighth studio album, and ninth overall, from British singer-songwriter Donovan and the debut album from the short-lived band Open Road. While his previous work was composed by his playing solo on acoustic guitar and then recorded with a shifting cast of session musicians, Open Road was Donovan's effort toward writing and recording music as a member of a band.
After working with producer Mickie Most on the string of successful albums, Donovan parted ways with Most upon completion of the Barabajagal sessions. He moved back to the UK against the wishes of his management, who objected due to the Britain's heavy taxation and its distance from the American market. For the first two months of 1970, Donovan booked time at London's newly renovated Morgan Studios and began recording and producing the tracks that would form his next album. He made demos of around 20 new songs with just vocals and acoustic guitar, including solo versions of "Changes" and "People Used To", before assembling his new band. Dubbed "Open Road", the band was Donovan on guitar and harmonica, his frequent collaborator "Candy" John Carr on drums, and bassist/guitarist Mike Thompson who'd been a bandmate of Carr's in a group called "Dada Lives" and briefly in an early version of the band Amber. Donovan also hired engineers Robin Black and Mike Bobak, the latter of whom would work on several of Donovan's following albums. The sessions marked Donovan's first time playing electric guitar extensively in the studio, and he also took up producing the record himself. The trio were joined by former Nero and the Gladiators/Heads Hands & Feet keyboardist Mike O'Neill for some of the album's songs, and O'Neill stayed on to play a few gigs with Open Road.
Donovan's intention was for Open Road to be the band he'd tour with indefinitely, primarily by sea on his own yacht. The plan was to leave Britain for one year, in part to avoid the exorbitant tax that the British government was levying on pop stars. The band met up on the Mediterranean isle of Crete to prepare the ship, rehearse material, and document their time there for the film There is an Ocean, which went unreleased until 2005 when it surfaced as a DVD in the box set Try for the Sun: The Journey of Donovan.
The group ended up flying from Greece to France, to the Soviet Union, and then Japan, never fully embarking on their sea voyage. They also played a concert in Viareggio, Italy that was broadcast on Italian television. Donovan cut the tour short, returning to the UK to focus on his family and record his next album, 1971's H.M.S. Donovan, on which John Carr and Mike Thompson also appeared. The last gig that Donovan did with Open Road was at the third annual Isle of Wight Festival on 30 August, 1970. Subsequently, Thompson and Carr continued to perform as Open Road, reassembling the group that same year with former Dada Lives bandmate Barry Husband on guitar and vocals, and church organist Simon Lanzon on keyboards. They recorded and released one more album, 1971's Windy Daze, before disbanding.
Many of the songs on Open Road ponder the negative side of industrialization and the lost peacefulness of a previous time. While Donovan had touched on this some of his previous work, Open Road was his first album to expound on the topic at length, though the versions recorded for the album scaled back on some of his more politically charged lyrics. The lyrics printed on the inner gatefold sleeve include some not sung on the actual record, like the first verse of "Celtic Rock":
Ye sons of Britain
Who once were free
Ye now are slaves to factory
Those who walk the path of mole
Expect in time to kill thy soul
The album's sole single, "Riki Tiki Tavi", uses the mongoose from Ruyard Kipling's story in The Jungle Book as a metaphor for how people wait for institutions ("i.e.: the church, i.e.: the government, i.e.: school") to exterminate social ills. An earlier version of the song also preached abstinence from psychedelic drugs, stating, "Laboratory synthetic stimuli, only goes to fog up your third eye." The song, "Poke at the Pope" decries religious faith, particularly Catholicism. "Song for John" was one of Donovan's epistles written for his friends, this one dedicated to fellow songwriter John Sebastian. "New Year's Resovolution" was inspired by Paul McCartney who, fresh from his break with The Beatles, was recording his first solo album in the studio below Donovan, as the two musicians saw themselves transitioning out of the 1960s and heading into new directions with their music. McCartney also loaned Donovan a guitar for some of the recording of Open Road.
In addition to his mix of folk and rock, Donovan and his band explored a number of musical styles on the album. "Riki Tiki Tavi" takes Kipling's Indian setting and riffs it off of a reggae beat. Brazilian guitarist Carlos Jobim inspired the title of "Joe Bean's Theme", which alternates between a bossa nova rhythm and psychedelic pop melodies. And the album's allegorically fantasy-themed song "Celtic Rock" coined the name of a new musical subgenre.
Releases and reception
Open Road was released on vinyl LP in the US on Epic in July 1970, and then in the UK on Dawn Records in September. The album's cover features a photo, taken by Donovan's best friend "Gypsy Dave" Mills, of Donovan flanked by his two bandmates with their names typewritten in small print beneath each person. Some versions of the record featured neither Donovan's name nor the album title on the front, highlighting only "Open Road" as the album's artist or title on the back. Other versions highlighted either "Donovan" or "Open Road" on the front.
Open Road was Donovan's third-highest charting album in the U.S., reaching #17 within two weeks of its release and peaking at #16. In the U.K. the album reached #30.
All tracks by Donovan Leitch.
- "Changes" - 2:56
- "Song for John" - 2:43
- "Curry Land" - 4:38
- "Joe Bean's Theme" - 2:52
- "People Used To" - 4:09
- "Celtic Rock" - 3:37
- "Riki Tiki Tavi" - 2:55
- "Clara Clairvoyant" - 2:57
- "Roots of Oak" - 4:53
- "Season of Farewell" - 3:25
- "Poke at the Pope" - 2:47
- "New Year's Resovolution" - 4:45
- Donovan Leitch - guitar, mouth harp, vocals
- Mike Thomson - guitar, bass guitar, vocals
- John Carr - drums, vocals
- Additional personnel
- Mike O'Neill - piano, vocals
- Robin Black - engineer
- Mike Bobak - engineer
- For the 1992 Donovan tribute album Island of Circles, the band When People Were Shorter and Lived Near the Water performed "Riki Tiki Tavi" and Black Sox covered "Changes".
- Celtic folk musician Jack Montgomery recorded a version of "Roots of Oak" with his own lyrics on his 2004 album Everywhere I Look.
- "Donovan: Open Road" (Vol. 82, No. 29). Billboard. 18 July 1970. p. 68.
- Leitch, Donovan (2007). The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man. Macmillan.
- "The Post-Donovan High". Beat Instrumental & International Recording. 1971.
- MacLeod, Mac (2011). "Liner Notes". Pearls of Amber (Compact Disc). Merlin's Noise Records.
- Watts, Derek (2008). Country Boy: A Biography of Albert Lee. McFarland. p. 107.
- (25). CBS Magazines. Stereo Review. 1970. p. 120. Missing or empty
- Leitch, Donovan P. (1992). Troubadour: The Definitive Collection 1964–1976 (Compact Disc). Epic Records.
- D. Leitch, The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man (Macmillan, 2007), p. 259.
- "Riki Tiki Tavi" (Vol. 82, No. 32). Billboard. 8 Aug 1970.
- Carson, Bryan M (2006). The Law of Libraries and Archives. Scarecrow Press. p. 47.