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Music Review: Donovan – The Essential Donovan

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At one time Donovan was mentioned in the same breath as Bob Dylan. While those comparisons have long since ceased, his catalogue of releases, especially his body of work from the 1960s, remains some of the best and more creative music of the era. He was a 2012 inductee into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

In conjunction with his latest honor, the Legacy/Epic label has released a two-CD, 36 song collection titled The Essential Donovan. It features every one of his songs to chart on the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart in the United States and the U.K. National Singles Chart. Also included are 14 additional album tracks, which delve a little deeper into his legacy. Remaining true to the original intent of the music, many of the songs are presented in mono.

The early part of Donovan’s career found him as a fairly traditional folk artist. Gentle songs such as “Catch The Wind,” “Colours,” and “Summer Day Reflection Song” presented the gentle side of the 1960s folk revival movement. While his cover of “Universal Soldier” was a biting criticism of war in general, his early music was more peaceful than a lot of the folk music being issued at the time.

Donovan’s fortunes, both artistically and commercially, changed when he formed a relationship with legendary British producer Mickie Most. Together they would produce some of the more memorable and better psychedelic pop of the 1960s. While psychedelic music is usually associated with rock, no one was better at defining its sound than Donovan. Songs such as “Sunshine Superman,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” “Jennifer Juniper,” “Atlantis,” and “Mellow Yellow” continue to be a reminder of 1960s culture. Slower and reflective material such as “Wear Your Hair Like Heaven,” “To Susan On The West Coast Waiting,” and “Lalena” continued to show his softer side.

As the 1970s dawned, Donovan was in transition again. His music was more eclectic and less commercially successful. Some British rock and classical poetry combined with one last reunion album with Most, 1973’s Cosmic Wheels, made for an interesting, if inconsistent musical journey.

The Essential Donovan captures him not only at his best but also the essence of an era. For any fan of Donovan, or if you just want to explore the 1960s psychedelic era from a different perspective, this release is indeed essential.

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