Donovan Leitch rose from Dylan wannabe to the flower-power embodiment of all things peace and love. He sometimes appeared to be more a hanger-on than his own artist – the wide-eyed clone who Dylan seemed alternately amused by and dismissive of during his ’65 English tour in the documentary Don’t Look Back, one of the tagalongs when the Beatles went to India to meditate with the Maharishi in ’68.
But as Joan Baez points out in the liner notes to this boxed set, when Dylan almost condescendingly asked Donovan to sing something to his entourage-filled hotel room, the Scotsman “proceeded to silence them with an enchanting ‘Catch The Wind.’”
The three CDs and one DVD housed in this purple velvet box – its 60 tracks including 16 demos, alternate versions, and unreleased studio and live performances, with the 40-minute documentary, There Is An Ocean, for good measure – leave no doubt that Donovan was, and is, his own man. And from beautiful folk melodies like “Catch The Wind” and “Colours” to protest songs like “Universal Soldier” to psychedelic fare like “Atlantis” and “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (backed by three-fourths of Led Zeppelin), he proves himself a major artist. Between hits like “Mellow Yellow” and “Sunshine Superman,” Leitch gets jazzy on “Sunny Goodge Street,” dips into bluesy terrain on “Hey Gyp,” and reveals his Celtic ancestry on “Lalena” and “Guinevere.”
In addition to Jimmy Page’s contributions, Jeff Beck shows up on “Barbajagal.” But Donovan’s own abilities as an acoustic fingerpicker should not be overlooked.
Although Try For The Sun is the most expansive Donovan retrospective, spanning 40 years, it should have taken a cue from the two-CD Troubadour collection from ’92, which includes track-by-track personnel credits. Some of that information is woven into the 56-page booklet’s liner notes, but it seems a bit lazy to not have all of it, clearly spelled out. Also, the packaging, which requires you to pry out the cardboard-encased discs, ensuring that they’ll eventually get dog-eared or worse, is a bit too clever for its own good.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.