on April 12, 2003
Donovan is an artist of great individuality. His work is superbly imaginative, and I rank him among my favorite artists of all time--any genre. While "progressive" is a word often flippantly tossed about today--describing seemingly anything but the ultra-mundane--Donovan's music has always seemed truly progressive and original to me. He understood the tasteful use of color, and its effect, in both his music and his lyrics. His albums from '66 through '68 are monuments of the psychedelic era--mystical, enchanting...irresistible. There are two that stand out in my mind as being absolutely essential, masterpieces in every respect and worthy of being heralded along with the greatest albums rock has ever produced: SUNSHINE SUPERMAN and this glorious one. (I hope that got your attention.)
We begin with the title cut--hushed at first, but when that lead guitar strikes and bends, the drums kick in, and (look out!) Donovan gets heavy. It was a big hit in '68. Then the mystical melody of "Peregrine" floats about the clippety-clop of hand percussion, while a harmonium hums along, carefree, almost oblivious to the fact that the vocal line is doing the same. At once it is as earthy and as ethereal as you could ever ask for. "The Entertaining Of A Shy Girl" offers a calming effect that dazzles, much the way sunlight would, partially blocked by leaves, creating a pleasing sparkle that dances on our senses. "As I Recall It" is a jazzy little ditty that gets us bopping and dancing to this lighthearted tune, while Donovan ironically sings sad lyrics of a disappointing affair. The mysticism returns with "Get Thy Bearings," a moody, but strongly rhythmic tune with an evocatively bluesy sax line. "Hi It's Been A Long Time" is a delicate and flowery gem decked out with ornate (but not overly done) orchestration.
Next comes the tropic delight of "West Indian Lady." Conga and guiro lay down an infectious beat, while the flute adds a certain ecstasy. Who can resist this? The subtle use of strings and woodwinds is divine in "Jennifer Juniper," one of the most delightful little ditties ever. Dreamy, blissful...Donovan falls in love. The understated percussion is ever so charming. "The River Song" is yet another meditative wonder. The acoustic guitar and the distant bongo hypnotize as Donovan's vocals carry us away. The effect of "Tangier" is like riding on a train, looking out at the despair as we pass by. The rattling percussion keeps the train moving right along. The indigenous guitar work assists in the pictures we are seeing, while the slightly off-tempo vocals speak as if they are our thoughts. "A Sunny Day" cheers us up, but ever so lazily. The song is punctuated by a brief business that picks us up for an instant, only to return to the skip-along laziness. "The Sun Is A Very Magic Fellow" is as tuneful a song as any I know. This magical, sunny wonder will stick with you long after it ends. A song that smiles this much almost makes us feel guilty for feeling carefree in a world with so many major problems; but then maybe that's how songs like this best serve us. We conclude with "Teas," another dreamy song of uncommon character. It's amazing what this guy can create with such spare accompaniment. The horns at the end brilliantly close this thoroughly entrancing album.
Strongest recommendations, folks. This isn't music, it's magic.
The idea that Donovan Leitch was to Britain what Bob Dylan was to America was always an unfair comparison to make and you have to think if Scottish folk-pop singer's first name had started with any letter other than "D" he might have been saved the analysis. Then again, anybody who cannot listen to the music these two were putting out in the 1960s and not be able to see their music as being opposites is simply not paying attention. Donovan was always the cheerful optimist, while Dylan on a good day was merely being realistic instead of pessimistic. That was just in terms of their lyrics, because once you got to the music Dylan was defined by stark guitar playing sometimes augmented by a harmonica in the style of Woody Guthrie while Donovan was helping to define the psychedelic sound.
In 1965 Donovan was a regular on the television music show "Ready, Steady, Go!" and then had his début single, the folk song "Catch the Wind." That was followed by the hit single "Colours," and then "Sunshine Superman" and "Mellow Yellow." In 1967 he traveled to India with the Beatles to study with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, after which he renounced drugs and turned on to meditation. Musically these profound changes manifested themselves in the ambitious double-album "A Gift from a Flower to a Garden" and then this 1968 album, "The Hurdy Gurdy Man." The scope of the album is covered in the two hits. The title cut (on which future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham were playing) is a mixture of Indian music with hard-rock, tinged with hallucinatory elements that made it to #5 on the charts. On the other extreme is the more ethereal "Jennifer Juniper," written for Jenny Boyd, the sister of George Harrison's wife, which climbed to #26. If you want to point to a Donovan song as epitomizing his sense of youthful innocence, this would be it.
The only real problem with this album is that producer Mickie Most lays it on a bit too thick in several of the tracks. I like the first two tracks after the title cut, with "Peregrine," a song about friendship that has some Scottish elements in it, and the excellent acoustic song "The Entertaining of a Shy Girl," which offers some nice guitar playing and a touch of woodwinds. But then "As I Recall It" spoils the mood by overdoing the jazz bit. By the time you get to the rest of the album there is a real sense that Donovan has abandoned the stage set by the opening track. In addition to "Jennifer Juniper" there is another odd to the ladies in "West Indian Lady." Then there is an emphasis on nature elements at the end with "The River Song," "A Sunny Day," and "The Sun Is a Very Magic Fellow," which helps the album end on more familiar ground than on which it began.
I was trying to decide if how good the best tracks on this album overcame the lesser efforts, and decided to round up because of "Get Thy Bearings" as the song that is not on the standard Donovan hits collection that would justify having this one as well. Telling this to a Donovan fan would be preaching to the choir and I am not arguing that "The Hurdy Gurdy Man" constitutes the one regular album you would want to have or first pick up when you moved beyond the hits collection. But this song has some of Donovan's better lyrics and if the sound had been catchier it would have made an interesting single. It has psychedelic elements, but there is also some jazz and blues, and some people might mistake it for a Stevie Windwood song, that is, until they listen to the lyrics, which is pure Donovan. This was already a five-star album so added six bonus tracks including "Lalena," "Colours," and "Catch the Wind," was hardly necessary but a nice touch.
on October 7, 2005
"Hurdy Gurdy Man" was Donovan's 1968 album, built up around the strong singles "Hurdy Gurdy Man" and "Jennifer Juniper". Like Donovan's other Micky Most produced albums this one touches upon a great varity of musical styles and instrumentations, with tasteful and original arrangements by John Cameron. Some of the more rocking tunes were arranged by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin - e.g. the stunningly build-up title track, starting with Donovan's silent humming joined by his acoustic guitar and building up towords its climax with electric guitars and drums. The overall sound-quality of this re-mastered version is great!
"Jennifer Juniper" is a beautifully arranged pop-ballad featuring both oboe and harp.
The album features a handful catchy free and easy tunes among which "The Entertaining of a Shy Girl"and "The Sun is a very Magic Fellow" stand out!
A couple of the droning tunes, combing traditional Eastern sounds with Celtic sounds, may sound a little dated.
"West Indian Lady" revives memories of the Caribbean feel of Donovan's earlier single "There is a Mountain".
A few tracks like "As I Recall it" and "Get Thy Bearings" are quite jazzy, and "Hi, It's Been a Long Time" is a great pop-tune, beautifully instrumentated.
Among the 7 bonus-tracks several stand out. The B-side "Teen Angel" is an early Donovan composition; a fine melody and a great addition.
The album out-take "What a Beautiful Creature You Are" is a fun track with a very catchy melody. The song features singer Lulu. The song ought have been included on the original album.
The two re-recordings of "Catch the Wind" and Colours" done for a for a best of album, are both fine, though they lack the charm of the original versions.
All in all another fine Donovan reissue!
on October 30, 1999
When I met Donovan in March of 1997, I had him sign my 3 favorite Donovan CDs: Mellow Yellow, A Gift from a Flower to a Garden, and Hurdy Gurdy Man. Like most other Donovan albums, this one lacks a weak moment. Not a bad place to start either. And by the way: Donovan is extremely friendly, in case you were wondering.
on September 16, 2011
Donovan met the Maharishi and perked enough interest in Transcendental Meditation that after he finished recording A GIFT FROM A FLOWER TO A GARDEN, he was able to lead a troupe of celebs to Rishikesh, India, among the notable names: all four of The Beatles with their wives/girlfriends (John and Cynthia Lennon, George Harrison and Patti Boyd, Paul McCartney and Jane Asher, Ringo and Maureen Starkey), Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence, Mike Love of The Beach Boys. The inspired troupe pretty much all came away disappointed. In fact John wrote Sexie Sadie as a blistering indictment on the two-faced Maharishi (the song was originally titled "Maharishi", same four syllable enunciation as "Sexie Sadie", and George warned him that it could be libelous), John and Paul chronicled Prudence's locking herself in the room in hiding from the guru in Dear Prudence, Ringo left after only 10 days with his wife Maureen, unable to reconcile himself to the vegetarian diet, and some other sources even implied that the Maharishi made overt advances to Mia and/or Prudence. Donovan remained mum on the entire experience. One positive thing did arise out of the trip and that was a source of inspiration for Beatles and Donovan music. According to Paul McCartney, it was during this time that Donovan instructed Lennon and McCartney in the claw hammer style of finger picking which is highly visible on Dear Prudence, Julia, Blackbird, and Mother Nature's Son. For Donovan, the cross-fertilization of The Beatles with Donovan Leitch, resulted in a desire to reach the wider audience of trendier rock which was blooming into the late 60's "classic rock" era. For his next recording, Donovan wanted Jimi Hendrix to play guitar but he was on tour and it was looking like he would call on old friend Jimmy Page again. John Paul Jones and John Bonham would round out the New Yardbirds about to lend their hand to the HURDY GURDY MAN.
HURDY GURDY MAN further benefits from eastern Indian classical influences as in previous inclusions of sitar, tablas, and other instruments, but takes these patterns a step further with the inclusion of harmonic drones. Chiefly used in Peregrine, The River Song, and Tangier, the effect is hypnotic. Those who enjoy and are familiar with Led Zeppelin's song In The Light (Physical Graffiti) will appreciate the earlier use of this. Hurdy Gurdy Man itself was released as a very successful psychedelic-electric single and to that date was Donovan's hardest rock song yet. The electric guitar leads swirled around the listener and no doubt Page contributed to this song! It charted to #4 on the Billboard charts and #5 in the UK. In addition to distorted guitar leads, an east Indian tambura is played by Donovan for seasoning on what would soon be labeled the "Celtic Rock" sound and what would eventually form into Led Zeppelin. The tambura was a gift from George Harrison. The other single on the album, also released prior to the album release was Jennifer Juniper, written for Jenny Boyd, sister of Patti Boyd who was George Harrison's first wife. Donovan met both Boyd's in India with the Maharishi. He became enamored of Jenny's free spirited manner which is reflected in the lilting song featuring wind instruments and a French coda. Included on the CD as a bonus track is the third single from this period, Laleña, written about a character portrayed by Lotte Lenya in the 1931 film, The Three Penny Opera. Of it, Donovan says "she's a streetwalker, but in the history of the world, in all nations, women have taken on various roles from priestess to whore to mother to maiden to wife. This guise of sexual power is very prominent, and therein I saw the plight of the character. Women have roles thrust upon them and make the best they can out of them, so I'm describing the character Lotte Lenya is playing, and a few other women I've seen during my life, but it's a composite character of women who are outcasts on the edge of society."
Most of the other songs on the original album are uplifting, accessible, pop-rock numbers with a splash of jazz or Caribbean flavor, rounding out an excellent album of the highest musicianship, lyric writing, and songcraft from an era. Get Thy Bearings, West Indian Lady, and Teas are significant standouts, but HURDY GURDY MAN is the one Donovan album I pick out as perfect with no warts. Even the bonus material on the CD is the best addition out of all four of the EMI reissues. Laleña already covered above, is accompanied by its B-side Aye My Love and the B-side from Hurdy Gurdy Man single, Teen Angel, both are fine songs. Poor Cow, the B-side to Jennifer Juniper was written for and used in the film of the same name, another very poignant song. What A Beautiful Creature You Are is a duet sung with the amazing Lulu, an infectious, happy, and slightly sexy song with a wisp of Jamaica Mon! Finally, HURDY GURDY MAN is rounded out by the bonus track addition of re-recorded (and actually better sounding) singles of Colours and Catch The Wind which first made their appearance on Epic Records 1969 release of Donovan's Greatest Hits, when Pye Records would deny them access to his first two hit singles. Including them here was pure genius on the part of EMI!
I've given all five of the "hippy" albums, and the small label pastiche Catch The Wind folk album, 5-Stars, but I would like to say that HURDY GURDY MAN, for me, is the 5th Star above the others. Stellar!
on March 25, 2002
This is the mighty Donovan's sixth straight studio album within a 3 years time span and is a grade-A example of British Pschedelic-Pop of the late Sixties.
During the first half of his career and at his commercial peak, Donovan had released two folk albums, changed management and musical direction in time to release two catchy and memorable pyschedelic-pop albums, a beautiful double album box set, and no less than six top ten singles which reached the Top Ten in both the US and UK charts.
This collection of songs is somewhat looked at as a rung or two below, in quality, to some of his more commercially well known collections like 'Mellow Yellow' and Sunshine Superman' and unnecessarily so.
Contained herein are some of the coolest songs Donovan ever put down in the studio.
'Hurdy Gurdy Man'- with its quiet hummed intro is the perfect of slice of cool along with the distortion fueled guitar lines interspersed throughout the song before Jimmy Page rips off a nice searing lead through the middle of the song.I can see the Ray-Bans.
The segue from 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' to the second song 'Peregrine' is smart and in general the running order of the album was smartly thought out.
'Peregrine'- the second number on the disc is smothered in raga inflected percusion and the drone of the hurdy-gurdy feed the atmosphere of gypsies out on a caravan, very celtic.
'The Entertainment of a Shy girl'- is typical of the period for Donovan similar to 'West Indian Lady' also from this album or 'The Observation' or 'Berts Blues' from the 'Sunshine Superman' album of 1965/66.
'Get Thy Bearings'- One of the jazziest and coolest forgotten gems of Donovans recorded career IMHO. A song that was even covered by King Crimson during thier original line-up back in 1969. The resonance of the Upright bass sets the tone and darkness of the song, while the sax playing of the very dearly missed 'Harold McNair' adds the swank of the dark smoke filled coffee house setting where this song would be at home. Very reminiscent for awhile of 'Traffic' during the same time period as it would be for the second self-titled album "Traffic".
'Jennifer Juniper'- which started the second side of the vinyl album was also a moderate hit for Top 40 radio, adds the more pastoral songing that Donovan is well known for, a gem.
'The River Song'- again with the celtic undertow could have easily been recorded during the 'Open Road' sessions, a hint of artistic pathways to come.
'Tangier'- just plainly takes you there with the feel of the sweat and dirt running down your neck with the delivery, the droning music of the hurdy gurdy and the hot gritty atmosphere dished up by the plaintive acoustic guitar.
The rest of the album settles into a mix of jazz inflected numbers, possibly the most jazz oriented album of his career, light hearted songs that could be found on all of Donovans releases, a kind of jazz-pop and because they were not named by title they should not be considered filler or padding.
Also contained herein is the first hint of the music savvy of the legendary LZ as John Paul Jones, John Boham and Jimmy Page all guested on the session for 'Hurdy Gurdy Man'.
This is really a good representation of where Donovan and music in general was at during the late sixties, unfortunately for Donovan his star would only shine incendiary bright for another year befor the start of his commercial decline set in. After his 'Mikie Most Productions' period- Donovan's 'Open Road' would fulfill his desire to have a "stripped down celtic-rock band". Unfortunately hassles within the industry prevented a very feesable excursion by a very talented musician.
The only reason I cannot give this selection the six stars it deserves is that this album and many of Donovan's classics are not being Digitally remastered. This is a crime.
on June 1, 2004
Wonderful slice of eastern influenced psychedelica. I don't
pretend to be an expert on this man's music, but I do know what
I like, and I like this very much. It rates up there with the
likes of SUNSHINE SUPERMAN. It is a great piece of psychedelic
rock history. Not a bad song on this one. Again I leave off that
fifth star only because the sound quality reproduction is not
up to todays standards. This man, as with the sun, is indeed
a very magic fellow.
Thanks, and ever lasting peace to all,
on June 28, 2004
I came across the double CD release of "Mellow Yellow/Wear Your Love Like Heaven" last December on my way from Pennsylvania to Florida (needing some "sunshine" music to pass the cloudy, cold and snowy time away on my escape from the blustery winter that was rapidly approaching in my rear view mirror.) With that disc I rediscovered Donovan all over again - but this time in a digital way. (His "Greatest Hits" LP still well-worn in my collection.)
Anyway, as I listened I started to appreciate his music for more than just "Season Of The Witch" or "Sunshine Superman." I just recently bought the "Sunshine Superman" CD and then just today got my copy of "The Hurdy Gurdy Man." I must say, after listening to songs like "Entertaining of a Shy Girl," "As I Recall It," "Hi It's Been a Long Time," "West Indian Lady" and the superb "Tangier"...I believe this is my favorite Donovan CD yet! I liked every song, but those were the instant standouts (with the obvious exception of the title track and "Jennifer Juniper.")
Excellent release with some really interesting twists and turns than really show more depth than anything he did up to that point. At least that's what I think.
Next up "From a Flower To A Garden"...hope it's as good as everyone says. I know that "The Hurdy Gurdy Man" didn't disappoint me in the least.
on December 31, 2002
I can't remember how I came upon this album (as we used to say in the old days) as a teenager in Hopkins, Minnesota in the late 60s. Nonetheless I bought it, and it's been a world unto itself ever since.
You have to allow for different musical styles, and be ready for introspective stuff; but all of it is of high quality.
I loved "Hurdy Gurdy Man" with Jimmy Page. Maybe that's how I found it. If you haven't heard it, you should go into a dark room and listen to it lying on the floor (also as we used to do in the late 60s).
But the whole thing is kind of a dreamy record where you are in different times, different places, different situations; all strong and not dull. I love this record. It's Scottish exotic folk music, with lots of talent infusing it. Donovan is a great artist.
Besides, listening to "Jennifer Juniper," there was a very cute girl who lived by me named Jennifer that was pretty well described by that excellent song, who I couldn't stop thinking about at the time.
Ah, came to nothing. Never mind.
on September 19, 2015
There's simply nobody like Donovan. His brilliant vocal and guitar techniques-particularly his collaborative arrangements-are unique and unpredictable. Donovan did lots of stuff that did for me, but there's a good bunch of truly superb and timeless examples, This album, billed as a remastered effort of the original analog master tapes (we hope), has two of my favorites: The stunningly psychedelic "Hurdy Gurdy Man", with an array for vocal, instrument and aural effects. I can't wait to hear that one on the new speakers I'm building. And "Teen Angel", the vinyl single B-side and rarely if ever issued on any albums. Donovan the unpredictable at it again. Far out, man. Enjoy!