"Try for the Sun:
The Journey of Donovan"
Forty years on, Donovan's very first recording, "Catch the Wind," maintains both its artistic and commercial currency. Played in its entirety, "Catch the Wind" was the moving end song in last Sunday's "Cold Case" and could have reappeared in the commercial breaks as a pitch song had Volvo, which uses the song, advertised on that television show. It would become the first in a string of hits that made Donovan an icon of the '60s, and this purple-velvet-covered career retrospective -- containing three CDs with all 17 of his American chart hits among its 60 songs, along with a documentary from 1970 -- confirms that Donovan Leitch deserved his position.
There are previously unreleased live recordings (including several from a 1971 concert at the Kennedy Center) and selections from later albums that were either never released here or were vastly underpromoted, but the heart of the collection is poetic, spiritually questing, occasionally trippy or mischievous songs whose very titles inspire singalong fever. Among them: "Colours," "Mellow Yellow," "Sunshine Superman," "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" and "Season of the Witch."
Even jamrock fans would do well to remember that the Allman Brothers' staple "Mountain Jam" is based on Donovan's catchy, Zen-infused "There Is a Mountain." For rock fetishists, there's guitarist Jimmy Page fueling 1966's "Sunshine Superman," in which Donovan melded folk, jazz and rock, and anticipated psychedelia (see also "The Trip"). Page, bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham -- not yet Led Zeppelin -- also supported Donovan on 1968's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" while the Jeff Beck Group did the same on 1969's "Barabajagal," suggesting Donovan was folk-rock fusion when folk-rock fusion wasn't cool.
The '60s were clearly Donovan's best years, and that material stands the test of time, not only through the standards but through such lesser-known delights "Epistle to Dippy," "Lalena" and "Jennifer Juniper" and such mystical fantasies as "Guinevere" and "Atlantis." Unapologetically romantic (after a long delay, Donovan married his muse, Linda Lawrence, who continues to inspire him as she did "Catch the Wind") and a self-described mystical optimist who never shied away from whimsy, Donovan and his enduring charms and achievements are well revealed here and in "The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man," published yesterday by St. Martin's Press. Less compelling is the DVD documentary "There Is an Ocean," though it does features the fine Open Road Band touring Greece in 1970 on Donovan's yacht. It's more molehill than mountain, but true troubadours learn to traverse both. And it's an enduring spirit that informs the box set closing, "Happiness Runs," even though it's not the 1969 original but a new version recorded for a Delta Airlines commercial. Forty years on, Donovan still manages to fly high.
-- Richard Harrington
Appearing Saturday at Maryland Hall in Annapolis.