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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Donovan Leitch in a modern mellow mood

September 16, 2004|Natalie Nichols | Special to The Times

Singer-songwriter Donovan Leitch is a bohemian icon -- the '60s' sunshine superman with his trippy, mystical pop tunes, genteel poet's presence and whispery, contemplative vocals. The Glasgow native's modern output has been sparse, but his new album, "Beat Cafe," aims to pass the adventurous spirit of his heyday to a new generation.

On Tuesday, he brought that atmosphere to Avalon Hollywood's appropriately exotic annex, the tiny Spider Room, and the appreciative crowd indeed included many young faces among the older fans.

On this first of two scheduled nights, the black-clad artist, 58, was in fine voice, alternating between a solo-troubadour stance with acoustic guitar and finger-snappin' hipster bits backed by a jazz trio. Unfortunately, the louder music in the main club at times bled through the walls, which was distracting during subtler numbers.

The 90-minute set ranged from his first British single, 1965's "Catch the Wind," to the title track of his new collection and poems by Dylan Thomas and W.B. Yeats. Leitch's quiet sense of bard-like drama created a compelling intimacy and lent poignancy to new numbers that etched portraits of his erstwhile counterculture world of the '60s British cafe scene. He offered between-song lessons about like-minded movements in history -- the '50s beatniks, the original 1800s French bohos -- which helped connect the dots, perhaps, for the more youthful audience members.

The reflective calm occasionally came close to somnambulant, and less sophisticated listeners were inclined to giggle at passing portentous moments, but Leitch never succumbed to sentimentality or pretension. Such old favorites as "Mellow Yellow" and "Season of the Witch" were highlights, but, beyond fondly evoking bygone times, Donovan proved himself a man of this age as well.

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