Heirloom Varieties - Donovan’s Brain (Career Records)
Americans watch their football games in four quarters. The Rest of The World tends to do things in halves. Just because “Heirloom Varieties” is neatly sliced into a couple of equal portions of contrasting music doesn’t make it any less of a trip to the psychedelic and pop backwoods of the US of A.
The first half (the review copy is a 14-track CD but you can score it as an 11-song LP) plays out in Paisley Underground territory, circa California 1986, with a huge nod to the jangly folk-psych of two decades earlier. That’s to say Rain Parade (that band’s Matt Pucci is a member), Green On Red and The Dream Syndicate. Steve Wynn fans will lap it up. The second half switches the mood to something darker and more psychedelic.
Ron Sanchez is the leader/organiser of Donovan’s Brain but this record carries the jangle-pop stamp of Bobby Sutliff (Windbreakers and more recently a solo artist) who wrote half the songs. With four writers, six guitarists and five vocalists, Donovan’s Brain albums are always variegated affairs but this one finds its centre particularly well.
“Brighten Up Shop” is a strong and catchy opener but the jangly stuff doesn’t take off for me until “Up To Me Down For You” where a strong melody and Kris Wilkinson-Hughes’ second vocal provide the hook.
“Wedding Bell Ring” benefits from some spidery outdo guitar, courtesy of Sanchez and Deniz Tek. The CD-only “Selfish Modern” nails the early Pink Floyd sound of “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” quite well.
The instrumental “Let It Go” is the Brains’ counterpoint to “Wedding Cake Island”, the gorgeous surf instro that jumped off Midnight Oil’s “Bird Noises” EP in the ‘80s. It’s a neat placement that spotlights psych songs like the drivingly insistent “Lightning Life” that follow on its heels. That one’s part of a trio with the lengthy “Sailing Off The Edge” with its electrifying Matt Pucci guitar, and the spacey “Light In Your Window”, that constitute a touchdown for mine.