Donovan's Brain - Heirloom Varieties - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Donovan's Brain - Heirloom Varieties

by Jeff Penczak Rating:9 Release Date:2015-09-24

Dedicated to their friend and former member Richard Treece (who played with them at Terrastock 4 in Seattle in 2000 and who passed away on May 26th), the Brain’s ninth album finds the revolving line-up expand to an octet. A veritable Paisley Underground supergroup, ex-Rain Parade guitarist Matt Piucci and ex-Long Ryder bassist Tom Stevens seamlessly slide in alongside regulars Ron Sanchez, ex-Windbreaker Bobby Sutliff, former Atomic Rooster drummer Ric Parnell, ex-Radio Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek, and ex-Chemistry Set guitarist Scott Sutherland. With a pedigree like that, it’s no wonder the Brain’s sound is the sum of its very interesting parts.

Picking up where Turned Up Late left off in 2013, (in fact, Donovan’s Brain are almost always recording new material for subsequent albums and several tracks here germinated during those sessions and gave the album its clever botanical title), ‘Brighten Up Shop’ veers between twangy Green On Red-styled cowpoke (kudos to Sutherland’s lap steel prowess) and shifty country rock. ‘House Boy’ is even better, with a dreamy hook, jingle-jangly backing and a tasty solo bringing up the rear.

     I’ve commented on a fleeting Tom Petty aura visiting several past Brain creations and ‘Saw It Coming’ may surprise even the heartiest Heartbreaker for its crystalline guitar lines, shimmering solos, and organic envelopment of Americana accoutrements. Shame that solo fades away, though (cf., Turned Up Late’s ‘As The Crows Fly’). ‘Great Divide’ glistens with more jangly pop hooks than a Byrds album (with a neat Buddy Holly lyrical cop), Sanchez adds his customary psychedelic wobble to the proceedings with the hazy fuzzed wah-wah of ‘Scant Information’, and Sanchez and Tek share a six-string duel in the sun on the galloping ghost ride through the sky, ‘Selfish Modern’.

     ‘It Wasn’t My Idea’ highlights the band’s exquisite harmonic interplay (musically AND vocally) with Sutliff’s iridescent solo anchoring another album highlight, while the Lazy Barre-S ranch plays host to the three-guitar triumvirate of Sanchez-Sutliff-Sutherland paying homage to West Coast psychedelia on the Kirwin-Welch-era Fleetwood Mac-styled instro ‘Let It Go’.

     Perhaps the Brain’s most cohesive release, Heirloom Varieties avoids the mix-tape quality of previous releases by focusing their energies on the melodic, guitar-based pop that suits them best, buoyed by the pedigrees of “four songwriters, five vocalists, and six guitarists.” After years of searching for that golden chord, Donovan’s Brain deliver the goods with Heirloom Varieties, which, like its namesake plant, extracts the best components of its constituent players’ lengthy and varied musical backgrounds and sources them into this eminently enjoyable collection of rockin’ pop tunes with a psychedelic bent.

Tip: The CD version has three extra tracks, all of which are available to download with the vinyl edition.

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