Turned Up Later - Donovan's Brain (Career)
A fresh album after what seemed an eon finds Donovan's Brain in fine, if geographically disperse, form. Core trio Ron Sanchez (vocals, keys and guitars), Bobby Sutliff (vocals and guitars) and ex-Atomic Rooster/Wayne Kramer/Spinal Tap (no shit) drummer Ric Parnell are at the centre with all sorts of collaborators making contributions recorded at six different studios.
Donovan's Brain albums are like overseas holidays: They take a long while to plan and evolve and you have to throw yourself right in to make the most of them. Sanchez and Sutcliff did the hard yards assembling the pieces and they fit fairly seamlessly. From the listening side, this trip took a while to absorb - there are a lot of stylistic detours to get your head around - but once immersion was achieved, it was a winner.
Mid-paced psych pop rock is a nice niche in which to flle "Turned Up Later" but of course it doesn't do it justice. It shifts effortlessly between synth-orchestrated prog-pop ("My Own Skin") to tremelo-laiden guitar rock ("Take Me With Me When You Go"). "It's All Right With Me" conveys edgy assuredness, "Red Wing Spy" an ethereal spaciness. "In Search of Connie Companion" makes the most of Sanchez's heady mix of mellotron, lap steel and synth to float three feet off the ground in its own portable cloud.
The Sutcliff-penned "Restless Nights, Many Dreams" sounds like a paisley underground song that would have made it to enlightened radio airplay in the '80s. "Morning Side Dream" is another Sutcliff gem taken out by his own killer solo.
A lot of you will know Deniz Tek as one of the floating members of the Brain so I'll cut to the chase and let you know he contributes his distinctive solos to four of these 12 tracks. His Aussie touring band bassist from 1992, Bob Brown, also pops up. While we're name-dropping, Matt Piucci from the Rain Parade contributes a solo ("Cardboard Army") and the vibraphone on "Red Wing Spy" is by Clare Moore (who you might know as the consummate drummer who keeps Dave Graney in line).
Sutcliff is vocalist for a third of these tunes and there's a back story to his involvement. He almost bought the farm in a road accident sometime in the recording process (the bio refers to it as a "recording accident" which would have been very Spinal Tap-esque), and only pulled through after spending six weeks in a coma. Whether by design or accident (probably a mix of both) the balance of the singing was handled by Scott Sutherland, Tony Miller and band-leader Sanchez. To some degree, this means "Turned Up Later" as a whole sometimes lacks a centre, but then again these detours are part of what keeps you on your toes.
My copy was on CD but there's an LP version with a different track listing and longer versions of some of these songs.