Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Donovan - Donovan-In Concert (1968)

This is a great record, with one important caveat -- anyone looking for the Donovan of AM radio and upbeat ditties like "Sunshine Superman" will have to go for more recent live albums. Donovan in Concert has been neglected over the decades by the fans, who apparently would have preferred a set that encompassed the hits, yet it presents a surprisingly vital side of Donovan's music, as well as excellent versions of some of his best album cuts and good versions of the two actual hits that are here.

In contrast to his studio sides, which often reflected the sensibilities of producer Mickie Most more than those of Donovan, the live material here, cut at the Anaheim Convention Center in early 1968, features Donovan doing his music, his way. One has to give Donovan credit for trying to use his pop music success as a basis to take his concert audiences to a somewhat different place; in addition to his own acoustic guitar, he's backed by flutist and saxman Harold McNair and percussionist Tony Carr, plus a bass and piano, in a pleasantly lean and lively set that shows him roaming freely between gently trippy psychedelia, folk-blues, and jazz (including some scatting). The result is a much more personal kind of show than one would have expected, closer to his folk roots than to the kind of performances that one associates with pop stardom. Most of the material is drawn from the For Little Ones, Mellow Yellow, and Sunshine Superman albums, done in neatly stripped-down arrangements. Apart from "Mellow Yellow" and "There Is a Mountain," the artist avoids his AM radio touchstones in favor of the lyrically more complex and musically more subtle joys of "Celeste" (which offers a beautiful showcase of McNair's flute playing, which is both spirited and elegant), "Young Girl Blues," "Isle of Islay," "Poor Cow," " "Guinevere," and "Fat Angel," interspersed with a handful of songs unique to his concerts, such as "Rules and Regulations," "Pebble and the Man" (which didn't have a name at the time), and "Preachin' Love," the latter easily the jazziest track that Donovan ever cut, complete with an extended sax break by McNair. Donovan is in excellent voice, the sound is state of the art, and the mood is a beguiling, very gently spaced-out playfulness, which slots in perfectly with the musical ambitions of the set.



Donovan – Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
Tony Carr – Percussion
Harold McNair – Flute

Original album

Side one

All tracks by Donovan Leitch.

"Isle of Islay" – 4:21

"Young Girl Blues" – 6:09

"There Is a Mountain" – 3:04

"Poor Cow" – 3:28

"Celeste" – 5:15

"The Fat Angel" – 3:24

"Guinevere" – 2:42

Side two

"Widow with Shawl (A Portrait)" – 3:34

"Preachin' Love" – 5:03

"The Lullaby of Spring" – 3:08

"Writer in the Sun" – 4:30

"Pebble and the Man" – 3:10

"Rules and Regulations" – 2:54

"Mellow Yellow" – 4:18
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