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Thrown Like A Star...
on 18 February 2006
This record continues to astonish. If A Gift From A Flower To A Garden (Donovan’s Songs Of Innocence And Experience?) mixed simpler instruments alongside lush and textured orchestrations, The Hurdy Gurdy Man created a tapestry of delights from more diverse sources. The influence of eastern music was more apparent here than on any of Donovan’s music since some of the songs on Sunshine Superman, and on this record it soaked into the very fibres of the sound. Here, Donovan develops eastern tones most clearly and obviously in Tangier (words by Gypsy Dave) and, surprisingly, Peregrine (a song also influenced by the atonal drones of the pipes and strings of Donovan’s Scottish roots;) songs which are quite unlike anything he had previously recorded. These experimental musings are gloriously successful, creating a mood which perfectly fits with the other, more familiar sounding, songs on this collection.
The Entertaining Of A Shy Girl and The Sun Is A Very Magic Fellow return Donovan to the sounds created on For Little Ones: acoustic guitar, flute, and percussion so light it could float away. Vignettes of life were always a real source for Donovan the storyteller, and Shy Girl captures its scene brilliantly. McNair’s flute playing simply soars away on so many of these performances. Just exquisite.
Elsewhere, Donovan’s jazz influences are allowed full reign, with the uptempo As I Recall It, the majestic Get Thy Bearings and the knowing Teas all doffing their cap to the Jazz tones and textures Donovan had decided to foreground. The Jazz influence was completed by the stunning Hi Its Been A Long Time, a brilliantly fused mix of Jazz, pop and pyschedelia which ranks along Donovan’s finest work of this period.
That this collection also includes the achingly beautiful melodies of Jennifer Juniper and The Hurdy Gurdy Man speaks volumes for Donovan’s creativity during this period. Jennifer Juniper is a wonderful arrangement, with John Cameron excelling himself in surrounding the melody with a chamber music style which leans heavily on English romanticism.
The Hurdy Gurdy Man song itself is an outrageous slice of pop perfection. Never mind the stories about who did or did not play on it, the point is that everyone who did played brilliantly. The guitar solo tears into the melody, the rhythm section powers everything along like a hurricane, and Donovan’s ‘simple’ lyrics, like on There Is A Mountain, betray a complexity of vision that is just mesmerising. Donovan may have opened his eyes ‘to take a peep’, but the wonder is that a little of what he saw was not just remembered but translated into a brilliant three minute piece which fused melody and lyric in some style.
The bonus material is interesting, but reveals little in the way of the creative process. Fans of his Greatest Hits will be familiar with most of this material. The treasures are Lalena and Poor Cow. The latter is a wonderful melody and lyric used to good effect in Ken Loach’s Poor Cow film, while Lalena is a haunting song dealing with similar themes as Young Girl Blues, to which it really should be seen as a companion piece. The string arrangement here is beautiful. The re-recorded Colours and Catch The Wind are interesting variations, while What A Beautiful Creature You Are signals Donovan’s continuing attempts to create throwaway singalongs.
The Hurdy Gurdy Man is terrific Donovan. This was a time when Donovan was performing regularly with a core group of master musicians, and the influence of these should not be underestimated. Take a bow Harold McNair, Tony Carr and Danny Thompson…rarely has a performer been blessed with such sympathetic players. The combination of Donovan, Mickie Most and John Cameron once again revealed itself as being at the vanguard of musical achievements. For a several years these guys were just peerless. Thank goodness we can again revel in their creativity and musical wit.