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Donovan - HMS Donovan

Classic Kids' Music by a Classic Psychedelic Folkie

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Donovan - HMS Donovan

Donovan - HMS Donovan

Courtesy Dawn Records
Donovan's pop tunes are some of the most recognizable on the radio, but lots of fans and listeners aren't as familiar with one of the most original and quirky albums ever released by a major artist. HMS Donovan was recorded specifically for the younger crowd, a double album full of lyrics by major poets like Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, and W.B. Yeats. Those words were set to Donovan's own music which had a definite Scottish and English folk music bent, resulting in an unforgettable combination of imagination, wistful tunes, fantasy, and sing-alongs.

The Artist

Donovan Leitch first came to prominence in the music biz as another "new Dylan," with songs like "Catch the Wind" and "Colours." He soon moved to a more psychedelic pop sound as he released hits like "Sunshine Superman," "Mellow Yellow," "Hurdy Gurdy Man," and "Atlantis." As his popularity waned, Donovan became more adventurous musically, incorporating elements of jazz and Scottish folk into his songs. In 1971 he released HMS Donovan, a double album produced for children, and a sort of follow-up to his 1967 album A Gift from a Flower to a Garden, record two of which was titled "For Little Ones."

The Music of 'HMS Donovan'

The album opens with a trippy, entertaining, mesmerizing, epic version of Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter," sounding more like a Firesign Theatre skit than a kids' song, followed by another Lewis Carroll classic, "Jabberwocky," accompanied by a wistful Donovan tune that builds into a song that Fairport Convention might have played. Donovan contributes wistful acoustic guitar and vocals to Thora Stowell's "The Seller of Stars," while Frida Wolfe's "Lost Time" receives a more cheerful reading, sounding a little like a Pentangle song. "The Little White Road" is another Thora Stowell poem, sung sadly by Donovan and showcasing his fingerpicking skills, while "The Star" is simply Donovan's brief, pretty version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

The brief "Coulter's Candy" is a traditional tune that would be a favorite sing-along for the little ones, and the even more brief Lucy Diamond's "The Road" fades away on a melancholy note. The a cappella "Things to Wear" spotlights the words of Agnes Grozier Herbertson, and "The Owl and the Pussycat" is an Edward Lear classic, set to an engaging melody by Donovan. Donovan's own "Homesickness" is one of the few songs to use amplified instruments on the album and the only to break out into a full-on rocker, detailing a singer's longing for home via a playful, bluesy tune. "Fishes in Love" is a precious Donovan original, and another of his own compositions, "Mr. Wind," sounds like a cross between Ween and Peter, Paul and Mary. "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" is one of the most charming songs on HMS Donovan, as Donovan sets the words of Eugene Field to his own charmingly catchy music.

More Music from 'HMS Donovan'

The great "Celia of the Seals" is Donovan's own song protesting the hunting of seals, and reached Number 84 on the Billboard Charts in 1971, while his "The Pee Song" is one of the funniest tunes on HMS Donovan, bound to get laughs from the young concert crowd. Donovan's "The Voyage of the Moon" is a quiet epic about a space-travelling ship, while his brief tune "The Unicorn" uses the same melody as the previous "The Owl and the Pussycat." "Lord of the Dance" sets Sydney Carter's lyrics to a sprightly tune, and Donovan's brief and slightly frightening "Little Ben" takes its origins from the story of The Fairy Rowan Tree. "Can Ye Dance" is a sprightly Donovan original, and his wonderfully tuneful "In an Old Fashioned Picture Book" encourages listeners to take an imaginative journey via a favorite book.

"The Song of the Wandering Aengus" features the descriptive words of W. B. Yeats and the fingerpicking and sad melody of Donovan; "A Funny Man" is a silly song that features lyrics by Natalie Joan and music by Donovan; and Donovan's beautiful and melancholy "Lord of the Reedy River" would be right at home on a Nick Drake album. The traditional tune "Henry Martin" is an epic song sung in Donovan's unique vocal style and played in an open tuning, while "Queen Mab" is a poem by Thomas Hood about a little flying fairy set to music by Donovan. HMS Donovan comes to a close with his own lullaby "La Moora," a gorgeous tune about sleepy babies being kissed goodnight by the sea and its surroundings.

The Verdict

I'll be the first to admit that HMS Donovan is an acquired taste for most kids' music fans, but open-minded parents with adventurous listeners will get endless hours of entertainment out of repeated plays. Donovan's decision to create HMS Donovan was a bold one, as the audience for such an album was sparse even back in the early '70s, but fortunately for us, this classic is still available today.

Released 1971; Dawn Records

Track Listing

  1. "The Walrus and the Carpenter" (words by Lewis Carroll, music by Donovan Leitch)
  2. "Jabberwocky" (words by Lewis Carroll, music by Donovan)
  3. "The Seller of Stars" (words by Thora Stowell, music by Donovan)
  4. "Lost Time" (words by Frida Wolfe, music by Donovan)
  5. "The Little White Road" (words by Thora Stowell, music by Donovan)
  6. "The Star" (traditional, arranged by Donovan)
  7. "Coulter's Candy" (traditional, arranged by Donovan)
  8. "The Road" (words by Lucy Diamond, music by Donovan)
  9. "Things to Wear" (words by Agnes Grozier Herbertson, music by Donovan)
  10. "The Owl and the Pussycat" (words by Edward Lear, music by Donovan)
  11. "Homesickness" (Donovan)
  12. "Fishes in Love" (Donovan)
  13. "Mr. Wind" (Donovan)
  14. "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" (words by Eugene Field, music by Donovan)
  15. "Celia of the Seals" (Donovan)
  16. "The Pee Song" (Donovan)
  17. "The Voyage of the Moon" (Donovan)
  18. "The Unicorn" (Donovan)
  19. "Lord of the Dance" (Sydney Carter)
  20. "Little Ben" (Donovan)
  21. "Can Ye Dance" (Donovan)
  22. "In an Old Fashioned Picture Book" (Donovan)
  23. "The Song of the Wandering Aengus" (words by W. B. Yeats, music by Donovan)
  24. "A Funny Man" (words by Natalie Joan, music by Donovan)
  25. "Lord of the Reedy River" (Donovan)
  26. "Henry Martin" (traditional, arranged by Donovan)
  27. "Queen Mab" (words by Thomas Hood, music by Donovan)
  28. "La Moora" (Donovan)
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