Some people are musicians, and other people are creatives. Mark Donovan falls into the latter category, describing himself as a singer/songwriter, recording artist, filmmaker and producer. Archive Tapes is the title of his latest album, and it opens with the beautifully understated "If All The World's A Stage.” Tenderly-strummed acoustic guitar chords create a melancholic yet soothing aesthetic, and Donovan's fragile vocals gel with the instrumentation so wonderfully. It's a short opening number, but an incredibly powerful one. There's beauty to be found in simplicity, and I'm a big champion of that in music; Mark Donovan delivers a straightforward intro to his new album, but it sets the tone in such a perfect way. Fantastic songwriting, but, above all else, a fantastic performance. And that's what distinguishes somebody from the ever-saturated crowd of talented musicians in the acoustic-songwriter genre.
"Leave The Light On" is another stunning song. I love the finger-picked acoustic melody on this one. There's a classic feel to Donovan's playing style and songwriting approach. Maybe it's the timbre of his vocals; his singing style has a smooth, transcendent feel to it, and it really reminds me of old-school vocalists, such as (bear with me) Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin. Yes, it's much softer music than a lot of what Zeppelin has to offer, but this tune stirred up some of the feelings that “Stairway to Heaven” often evokes in me. The tender vocals and guitar-playing. The ethereal quality of the music. Wonderful. And the introduction of female vocals in the second half of the track really turns this song into a beautiful duet. It's a lovely second track, and it keeps the album moving steadily onwards -- the short length of each song surprised me at first, but now I think that it was Donovan's way of keeping the album fresh. Each idea is given sufficient time to flourish without becoming stale or repetitive. It's a great formula.
"To See Your Smilin' Face Just Brings Me Down" was the first track that really shocked me on the album, however. I'm still trying to process how I feel about it. Autotune. Not a tool that's often used in this genre. And yet, in the same way as Old Town Road, it strangely... works. Yes, I think the Lil Nas X reference is relevant here. There's still enough humanity and folk energy in this track to keep it grounded and emotional, in spite of the heavily processed and alien vocals. Again, it really supports my point in the previous paragraph. Mark Donovan isn't content with singer/songwriter music that becomes dull. He has to find ways to keep the music exciting and unexpected. He does just that on this track.
All in all, I really enjoyed Archive Tapes. One of my favorite moments was "The Wind Under My Wings.” The delicacy of the finger-picking really gives Donovan's voice room to breathe, and it's his best singing on the album, in my opinion. You can really feel the emotion in every word, and I think it perfectly sums up the energy that the overall album is trying to put out there. It's a fantastic song on a fantastic album.