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Minnesota-produced Donovan tribute features Flaming Lips, Sharon Van Etten

Astronautalis is one of 15 artists on the compilation.

Astronautalis is one of 15 artists on the compilation.

Scottish folk singer Donovan has made a mark in music, starting in the 1960s and inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. Rising to fame at the same time as Minnesota’s own Bob Dylan, the two artists shared some similarities but used very different tones. On October 16, Minnesota again connects with Donovan via Gazing with Tranquility: A Tribute to Donovan.

Released by local non-profit Rock the Cause, the new, 15-song covers album includes a healthy dose of Minnesota artists like Chris Mars, Astronautalis, Jillian Rae, Apollo Cobra, and Maudlin. There are also can’t-miss indie names like the Flaming Lips, Sharon Van Etten, and Lissie.

“We wanted to do something different that would appeal to multi-generations,” says Scott Herold, founder of Rock the Cause. The record started as an idea between the label and Huntington’s Hope, a charitable organization benefitting victims of Huntington’s disease. “With interest is neo-folk and neo-psychedelic music being so huge,” he says, Donovan was an easy fit. “They know his songs even if they think they do not,” he explains, and it’s “ripe for a resurgence.”

While Herold didn’t know Donovan going into the project, working with Donovan’s publicists lead to a late night call from the now 69-year-old artist. With the legal foundation in place, Herold was ready to begin curating a collection of covers of an artist he grew up listening to.

“Some of the acts on the record may be more widely known than others,” he says, but music knows no “size” to him. “To me it was about picking the right artist for each track: Did they have a history of being open to supporting charities and could they deliver an exciting interpretation of Donovan's songs?”

That philosophy brings an eclectic grouping of covers from the spacey indie noise of Flaming Lips to the more up-front folk of Savannah Smith and the dance groove loops of Astronautalis on “Season of the Witch,” debuting here:

Minnesota rapper Astronautalis is one of 15 artists on <i>Gazing with Tranquility</i>

Minnesota rapper Astronautalis is one of 15 artists on Gazing with Tranquility

"’Season of The Witch’ is such a jam, a classic song, that I have loved since I was a little kid,” Astronautalis says of why he chose the song. Genre-changing covers intrigue him as an artist, and he sought to highlight a buried element within the song, here the dynamic changes between verse and chorus. “Once we added those triumphant horns and the 808s were hitting we knew we had it,” he says of a long night working with Oscar Romero. “We were listening to it on loop, with no vocals, and it just felt like that blew it wide open.”

From dance music to folk and more psychedelic music of today, Donovan’s influence ranges far. He is said to have drawn the Beatles’ George Harrison toward Eastern thought and he had a sizable impact of Rock the Cause’s Scott Herold, too.

“When I was a child songs like 'Mellow Yellow' and 'Sunshine Superman' ruled the airwaves,” he says. "He was the opposite of Bob Dylan. Donovan's vision was not apocalyptic like Dylan. Donovan was about love, freedom, the power of youth, and the idea that we are all connected. I think his song ‘Cosmic Wheels’ is my favorite. It sums up everything Donovan is about.”

Making Gazing with Tranquility, named from a lyric in ”Hurdy Gurdy Man,” isn’t just a way to showcase an influential artist, but to raise money for a good cause. Pre-orders from Rock the Cause are open now. Here's the Gazing with Tranquility: A Tribute to Donovan track list:

  1. Mixd Up Kidz (feat. Chris Mars) — Atlantis

  2. Apollo Cobra — Barabajagal (Love is Hot)

  3. Maudlin — Epistle to Dippy

  4. Colony House — Sunshine Superman

  5. Hamilton Leithauser — To Susan On the West Coast...

  6. Jillian Rae — Superlungs My Supergirl

  7. Ivan & Alyosha — Catch the Wind

  8. Sharon Van Etten — Teen Angel

  9. Brett Dennen — Colours

  10. Lissie — Happiness Runs

  11. Little Man — There is a Mountain

  12. Astronautalis — Season of the Witch

  13. Savannah Smith — Lalena

  14. Verskotzi — Mellow Yellow

  15. The Flaming Lips — Atlantis