Donovan

Greatest Hits Live Vancouver 1986

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Donovan predated VH1's Storyteller series when he played this mid-'80s Canadian show. Along with the stripped-down solo acoustic format, he adds background about the songs, why they were written, and in many cases to whom. The audience is polite, rather reluctantly singing along to "Happiness Runs," dividing up the men's and women's parts after Donovan encourages them to and filling in for the missing horns on "Mellow Yellow." Donovan is in fine voice and seems unusually content to be singing songs he's been performing for over 20 years, even adding fresh nuances to "Lalena," one of the most stirring pieces here. But generally this is a by-the-books gig, with the '60s troubadour running through his catalog yet again. Many of the pop/rock hits, like "Sunshine Superman" and "Atlantis," don't resonate when reduced to softly strummed guitar, and "Hurdy Gurdy Man," when stripped of its psychedelic trappings, just sounds toothless. The overriding feel that Donovan is on autopilot here gently permeates what is actually a rather engrossing performance. But how many times you'll want to play this after you've heard his interesting background stories once is questionable, since these versions are simply not as intriguing or compelling as their studio counterparts. The singalongs are moderately irritating if you weren't there and possibly even if you were. Conspicuous in their absence are "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" and "To Susan on the West Coast Waiting," two songs that would seem to be custom-made for a solo reading. The three additional tracks with a small combo accompaniment from a Carnegie Hall show the same year show Donovan navigating an extremely overzealous, almost manic audience through some weak latter-day material. The rampant crowd-whistling on the silly "Mr. Fluteman" is so annoying it almost eclipses a fine, sax-dominated performance of "Young Girl Blues." A closing, previously unreleased studio demo of "Only to Be Expected," the bland song's only appearance on a Donovan album, is unnecessary. For completists only.

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