Fires Which Burnt Brightly – Donovan’s Brain (Career Records)
Montana-based psych collective Donovan’s Brain returns after a four-year hiatus – hardly a blip, really, in a trajectory that’s now spanned two decades. Joining San Francisco expat Ron Sanchez for the festivities are his fellow Montanan Deniz Tek and Mississippi power popster Bobby Sutliff, who once drove 13 hours to record with Let’s Active honcho Mitch Easter. His Career stablemate Roy Loney, who’s been shaking some action this year in tandem with his Flamin’ Groovies partner Cyril Jordan, is also on board.
"Fires Which Burnt Brightly" is a very lush-sounding record, replete with chiming 12-strings, Floydian grooves, and what sound like mellotron string sections. Sanchez & Co. roll out their entahr array of devices on the opening “The Same Mistakes,” with a lead vocal that recalls "Like A Priest Driven Ambulance"-era Flaming Lips. The second half of the program is designed as a “song cycle,” although the conceptual continuity is hard to follow for someone like yr humble chronicler o’ events, who lost the facility for remembering song lyrics around 1973.
Mostly, "FWBB "is a love letter to the electric guitar. You can hear it in the meaty solo Dr. Tek peals off on “Green 17,” sounding more than a bit like Gary Quackenbush from his ’60s Motor City homies SRC (whose first two albs you need to hear, if you can find ‘em), in the minor key blues homage to Fleetwood Mac’s lost founder Peter Green (curiously very low in the mix) on “Broken Glass Corner,” or in the swirling overdubbed dual lead that bursts through like a sunbeam through clouds on the coda of “Last Acid Rider.”
The weakness here is in the drumming, which in general is fairly lackluster. Comparisons being odious, the snotnoses in Dungen are into wallowing in the same trough of ‘60s psych influences as the Brain, but they do so with a maniacally flailing, Mitch Mitchell-style percussionist, and it makes all the difference. When Tek’s "Zeno Beach" also-ran “Vanished” reared its head, I felt something approaching relief to hear an actual drum fill -- played, I believe, by Tony Horton, ex-Deniz Tek Group, who once had an abscess lanced by his bandleader in a van while touring Europe.
Best moment here is “High Street Hit Man,” a Who-like ditty with someone (Horton?) replicating every good hit Keith Moon laid down on "Who’s Next"'s “Bargain” while Sanchez mourns the closing of the local rekkid store (but they’re opening, again, Ron!), putting me in mind of my fave-ever Brain cut, the Tiny Crustacean Light Show-era obscurity “My Favorite Record.” In my humble opinion, someone oughtta put ‘em both on a 7-inch for next Record Store Day. So there!