Mark Donovan (singer/songwriter/filmmaker/producer) is a new artist to me, but apparently not to everyone. He’s released over 80 songs on all the digital platforms (Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, etc) and north of 600 videos on his own YouTube channel, as well as appearing on many playlists and compilations. He calls his music “emotive acoustic.” 

Donovan’s newest release is titled The Archive Tapes. He didn’t send any liner notes but this album sounds like a collection of demos or unplugged versions. Some songs feel more finished, some are quite bare, and most are way under two minutes, which I greatly admire (especially as the songs do not FEEL short or unfinished when heard all together). He grabbed me from the moment I saw his cover art, which is a beautiful collage of an old-school audio cassette resting on a portable 4-track recorder with paper flowers on top.  

“If All The World’s a Stage” introduces Donovan’s sound with a gentle, upbeat strummed acoustic playing a circular melody. Donovan’s voice has the sincerity of Elliott Smith combined with the unique pronunciation of someone like Paul Williams. His lyrics are seemingly simple but quite moving: “I want to take away your heavy pain, your pouring rain / If all the world’s a stage / We should take our places…”

“Leave The Light On” is a slower, folky song that’s picked instead of strummed, with possibly a second guitar playing bass notes. This time Donovan augments his vocals with a long reverb trail that only adds to the sweetness of his tone (despite clearly audible room sound at the beginning and end). The song is constructed as a call and response between a man and a woman, with both saying they’ll “leave the light on all night long” for each other. For the first (and only) time, drums and keys are added to the mix, filling the track out nicely. 

“Nothing That I Wouldn’t Do” is another roomy demo-sounding track where Donovan lists all the things he’d do for his partner, before a very short chorus made up of the song title. Here’s one song that might have used a second set of verses, but in any case the track ends a bit early. “Crooked & Famous” is similarly short and to the point, but uses chunky acoustic riffs paired with a metallic reverb for Donovan’s voice.

“To See Your Smilin’ Face Just Brings Me Down” is the longest track at almost three minutes. Constructed like a classic folk tale with ringing acoustic chords, Donovan purposely over-cranks the autotune for an unnatural but very cool effect on his singing, both lead and harmony. Easily one of the best-written songs. “All I’ve got is faith and a memory.”

“The Wind Under My Wings” at first sounds like a well-worn metaphor, but the spooky sincerity Donovan brings to his singing soon won me over. “I feel the wind under my wings / Holy Ghost, are you there for me? / After all I’ve been through / And I still believe…”

“Drunken Metaphor” is probably the most demo-like track, as its basically a single idea recorded near what sounds like a park fountain. “You Don’t Need Me, You Don’t Feign Me” returns to the serious tone of “Wind Under My Wings” where Donovan lets his singing soar like Glenn Hansard, calling out to someone he loves who “doesn’t need and doesn’t feign” him. The nicely titled “Love Is Not a Victory March” ends the collection with an almost churchly reverence. Slowly picked and dramatically sung, it’s the perfect end piece to a collection that mostly concerns itself with questions of love and need.

Though I wish I had more of a clue what Donovan was going for with this project, I really enjoyed this album for exactly what it seemed to be: a group of songs that each made their point in exactly as much time as needed.

Garth Thomas