Rising Again

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There are so many Donovan reissues out there, interspersed with new, mostly live recordings of the 1960s British folk-cum-psychedelic pop star, that it's difficult to sort out what's what. And this double-CD set is especially vexing, as it's an expanded and improved reissue of a 1990s live release (called Donovan Rising) -- officially, it was recorded on-stage between 1982 and 1986, in New York and Sydney, but there's some rumor about earlier concert sources (from the 1970s) for some of the material here. Wherever and whenever it all came from, however, the set gives the listener a chance to hear this unique artist range across a career's worth of repertoire, from his early-'60s U.K. Dylan-esque phase ("Colours," "Catch the Wind") up through his heady international chart-bounding psychedelic pop stardom ("Lalena," "Sunshine Superman," "Jennifer Juniper," etc.), and into the 1970s, when the world seemed to move on without him. Along the way, he also touches some bases with a few lesser-known marvels of the era, such as "To Susan on the West Coast Waiting." For longtime fans, the content here is something of a mixed bag, depending on the nature of one's fandom -- those who appreciate the songs and the man behind the songs, especially in the time whence they originated, will likely love these stripped-down acoustic renditions, complete with long-missing verses ("Hurdy Gurdy Man" is presented with George Harrison's never-recorded contribution to the song) and, in the case of the psychedelic-era hits, inflections that were never part of the original records. But those who just want to remember the distinctive arrangements and ambience of the original records may be disappointed -- those records were, indeed, creations of their time, and anyone seeking their smooth trippy sound should look to one of the better Sony Music reissues. But for anyone else who seriously loved those lyrics and the personality behind them, this is a beautiful concert survey of his career and work, and a full extra star can be added to the rating.

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