Convolutions of The Brain - Donovan’s Brain (Career Records)
One definition of a convolution is “a twist”, and there are more of those in the history of Donovan’s Brain than Donald Trump’s Twitter stream.
Starting as a garage band in 1986 - playing Thunders and Stooges covers - the Brain has evolved into a shape-shifting, back woods psychedelic musical collective, with nine albums and 26 past or present members. “Convolutions” covers 1991-2017 and generously spans three discs. That’s 49 songs and a touch under four hours of music.
The only constant in the Donovan’s Brain story is Ron Sanchez, a musician, radio host, restauranteur and producer who relocated many years ago from the US West Coast to the bucolic and relatively remote location of Bozeman, Montana.
Sanchez has gathered an amazing range of collaborators, including members of Help Yourself, Man, Roy Loney and the Long Shots, Fresh Young Fellows, Radio Birdman, the Tyla Gang, Atomic Rooster and Spinal Tap.
He might be the only regular but it’s not all about Ron. The Brain’s ethos is for every member to bring something to the table. That makes for a rich and varied feast where it’s sometimes hard to find the meat and potatoes at the centre, but that’s also a formidable strength. Even when they’re uneven, there’s something on a Donovan’s Brain album to intrigue.
“Convolutions:” isn’t a Best Of. It’s a retrospective collection of the hard-to-find songs, remixes and the odd unreleased track. There’s no need for a detailed track-by-track review here; Ron Sanchez is a meticulous archivist and tells the story about each song and shifting line-up in the accompanying booklet.
Most of Disc 2 is given over to two studio rehearsal sessions for a show at the 2000 Terrastock Festival with some exciting extended jams. There’s a little tinkering with overdubs added to two of the nine tracks but there’s a good sense of this line-up being more than a studio entity.
Disc 3 is the ideal entry point for I-94 Barflies as it leans to the rockier stuff. Four of the 17 tracks are a showcase for the stunning guitar talents of the late Richard Treece (Help Yourself, the Tyla Gang and the Green Ray) and he’s also all over Disc 2. Intricate, weaving lines were his trademark. Treece was English-born but there are shades of John Cipollina in some of the more complex stuff; it's probably no coincidence that it all leads back to the West Coast psych scene that bandleader Sanchez grew up in.
Deniz Tek is another member of the Brain (he also co-owns the Career Records label with Sanchez) and his familiar tone graces the first and third CDs. Disc 3 also boasts a respectable, if slightly stilted, live rehearsal of Birdman’s “More Fun”. He’s also on “No Cops Haul Ass”, a nitro-glycerine fumed instro that was half a split single with Sweden’s Nomads.
Birdman fans probably don't realise how much of the Brain output Tek has played on over the years. On the whole, his contributions to the Brain are more nuanced than in the Radios, so don't expect "New Race".
“Convolutions” ranges from stinging psych rockers like “Brave New Girl” (which locks into a Crazy Horse jam but with a more spritely groove) and the slide version of “Joey’s In The Pouch”, from jammy explorations (“Central Services”) to odd cuts like "Big Sky" and the percussion-themed soundtrack piece, “Gondola Scene”, where an infusion of lap steel lends a weird air.
It's all packaged in a fold-out card DVD-style sleeve and complemeted by Sanchez's thorough liner notes booklet. This is sprawling and often surprising music in which to lose yourself. Find out via the link below. Full immersion is recommended.