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Review: “Woody Guthrie at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center”

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Woody at 100

The new CD/DVD set is entitled Woody Guthrie at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center, but in fact, Woody never made it past 55. This document of an altogether lively concert program from a wide assortment of admirers proves, however, that his music has not only lasted ‘til 100, but will likely survive us all.  This is a celebration, yes, but a celebration with a conscience.  A strong thread of morality and social awareness ran through all of Guthrie’s songs, as he believed music could make a difference in America.  That same belief is shared by the performers who took the stage of Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center on October 14, 2012, including Jackson Browne, Rosanne Cash, Donovan, Judy Collins, Tom Morello, John Mellencamp and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.  That evening, they showcased the spectrum of Guthrie’s work from protest songs to children’s sing-alongs.

As produced by Woody’s daughter Nora Guthrie, Bob Santelli and Garth Ross, the concert is well-sequenced, beginning with the joyous barrage of nonsense lyrics in Old Crow Medicine Show’s bluegrass-style “Howdi Do.”  The string band continues the jamboree with Guthrie’s rapid-fire story of a “Union Maid” who’s “stickin’ to the union ‘til the day I die,” and indeed, Guthrie’s commitment to the ideals of unionization recur throughout the program.

A major highlight is the mini-suite of songs thematically connected by imagery of the open road and the hobo, with contemporary folksinger Joel Rafael’s harmonica-accompanied “Ramblin’ Reckless Hobo” (for which he set Guthrie’s lyrics to his own music), Jimmy LaFave’s “Hard Travelin’,” Donovan’s “Riding in My Car” and Rosanne Cash’s “I Ain’t Got No Home.”  Listening to Rafael, it’s hard not to hear a Bob Dylan influence, or more precisely, how Guthrie influenced Dylan and in turn, Rafael.  Texas singer LaFave’s “Hard Travelin’” contrasts a jaunty melody with the story of a hard-working itinerant who brushes up against the law; “I Ain’t Got No Home” introduces a similar character with an even sadder tale.  While “Hard Travelin’” utilizes awkward grammar (“I’ve been layin’ in a hard-rock jail, I thought you knowed”) and jolts of dry humor in its lyric (“Damned old judge, he said to me, ‘It’s 90 days for vagrancy”), “I Ain’t Got No Home” is all too touching and troubling.  Cash, accompanied only by her own guitar and that of guitarist-vocalist-husband John Leventhal, gets to the root of the song in her low-key, empathetic vocal.  She doesn’t overplay the despair but rather renders the character she embodies with a quiet resolve and dignity.

Donovan leads a sing-along on Guthrie’s children’s song “Riding in My Car,” which fits snugly among the other, more “adult” songs.  It’s no mystery why: Guthrie wrote for adults in the same simple and lyrically unadorned style he wrote for children.  Grown-ups will likewise want to sing along to the mandolin- and fiddle-adorned refrain of The Del McCoury Band and Tim O’Brien’s “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh.”

Hit the jump for more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 18, 2013 at 15:06

Bound For Glory: Rosanne Cash, Judy Collins, John Mellencamp, Donovan Celebrate Woody Guthrie at 100

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Woody at 100On July 14, 2012, Woody Guthrie would have turned 100 years old.  The Oklahoma-born “Dust Bowl Troubadour” died in 1967, just 55 years of age, but all these many years later, his compositions such as “This Land is Your Land,” “Grand Coulee Dam” and “The Sinking of the Reuben James” are cornerstones of American song.  The folk hero, whose guitar was famously emblazoned with the slogan “This machine kills fascists,” was celebrated last year with Smithsonian Folkways’ impressive 3-CD/hardcover book box set Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial.  On June 11 of this year, Legacy Recordings will release a special CD/DVD set which should prove a fine companion to that hefty musical tome.  The October 14, 2012 concert Woody Guthrie at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center found the late songwriter feted by musicians young and old, all of whom were influenced by Guthrie’s captivating folk songs and many of whom have carried on his life’s work of singing for a better life and better country.

The concert’s line-up included politically-minded singer-songwriters decades apart but close in ideals (Jackson Browne, Tom Morello), country music royalty (Rosanne Cash), rockers (John Mellencamp), folk singers (Ramblin’ Jack Elliott), genre-defying vocalists (Judy Collins, Lucinda Williams), psychedelic survivors (Donovan), an a cappella ensemble (Sweet Honey in the Rock) and even a string band (Old Crow Medicine Show).  All showed their great affection for the immortal music of Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie.

Legacy’s release coincides with the television premiere of Woody Guthrie at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center which will occur on PBS in June.  But the CD/DVD package makes room for eight performances from the Washington, DC show which were excised from the broadcast version of the film: two spoken-word pieces from actor Jeff Daniels, and six musical performances from Old Crow Medicine Show, Rosanne Cash, Jimmy LaFave, Lucinda Williams, Judy Collins and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.  The CD has nineteen tracks in total, while the DVD boasts 22.

After the jump: we have plenty more details, including pre-order links and track listings for both the CD and DVD portions of the package! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 3, 2013 at 09:38

Sunshine Came Softly: Donovan’s 1966-1969 Studio Albums Collected In New Box Set

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Donovan - BreezesWhen I look out my window, many sights to see….and  when I look in my window, so many different people to be, that it’s strange…so strange…

It’s once again the season of Donovan, in all his strange and beautiful colors.  EMI U.K. has recently released a budget-priced compendium that should make for a solid primer on the Scottish troubadour.  Breezes of Patchouli: His Studio Recordings 1966-1969 is a four-CD set bringing together Donovan’s five Mickie Most-produced albums of that period plus (most of) the bonus tracks originally included on EMI’s last round of remasters and one previously unreleased track.

Breezes of Patchouli includes the original albums Sunshine Superman, Mellow Yellow, The Hurdy Gurdy Man, Barabajagal and A Gift from a Flower to a Garden as presented on EMI’s 2005 reissues (2009 for A Gift) with the remastering from those editions intact.  As Donovan’s catalogue has had a checkered history, this box is one-stop shopping for its core, early titles.

We explore these titles and have more details on the box set – and its “missing” tracks – after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 26, 2013 at 09:48

Posted in Box Sets, Donovan, News, Reissues

Review: Donovan, “The Essential Donovan”

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Dear Donovan: what’s it been like being you?

The enigmatic Scotsman born Donovan Philips Leitch has worn many colours since bursting onto the music scene in 1965: the guitar-slinging Woody Guthrie disciple of “Catch the Wind,” the mystical folkie of “Season of the Witch,” the lysergic hippie of “Sunshine Superman,” the sinister rock narrator of “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” Though he’s never retired, the poet/troubadour has maintained a low profile in recent years. He’s only sporadically emerged with new studio albums, devoting himself to non-musical pursuits as well as penning an autobiography titled The Hurdy Gurdy Man after his song. Indeed, one could have believed that Donovan Leitch disappeared along with flower power. Yet, just last weekend, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally turned its attention to Donovan, and to celebrate his long-overdue induction into that august (and controversial) body, Legacy Recordings has issued the second compilation with the title of The Essential Donovan (Epic/Legacy 88691 95868 2 4, 2012).

A single-disc edition in 2004 has been doubled in size, featuring 36 songs on two discs. Every one of the 18 songs Donovan brought to the Billboard Hot 100 and U.K. national chart between 1965 and 1973 is present, along with album tracks and four songs previously unissued domestically. More than half of the tracks on Disc One are heard in their original mono mixes, including all of Donovan’s acoustic-based tracks recorded for the U.K.’s Pye label (and released in the U.S. on the Hickory imprint) in late 1964 and 1965, as well as a number of Epic sides from 1966.

Co-producers Donovan and Bob Irwin have logically sequenced the collection in rough chronological order, which makes it easier to appreciate the threads running through the artist’s songbook despite varied musical settings. Beauty, empathy, simplicity, fragility: all typify a Donovan song. This is evident from his earliest compositions like “Catch the Wind” and “Colours,” from the period when the artist “sounded like [Bob Dylan] for five minutes,” in his own words. These two 1965 songs were re-recorded by the artist for his 1968 Epic Records LP Donovan’s Greatest Hits, but are heard here in their original Hickory Records mono single versions. (Those hippy-dippy reworkings are unfortunately difficult to find, as the most recent edition of GH substituted the original versions.)

Donovan didn’t take long, though, to ditch the drawling, laconic delivery of “Colours,” appropriate as it was for the song’s lovely sentiment, one that would certainly not have come from the mouth of Mr. Dylan: “Yellow is the colour of my true love’s hair/In the morning, when we rise/In the morning, when we rise, that’s the time/I love the best…” His style was evolving rapidly, and the same album (1965’s Fairytale) containing “Colours” also included “Summer Day Reflection Song,” with a very different vocal quality. Far from what the title would suggest, the song isn’t a wistful recollection by the light of the sun, but a poetic rumination of diverse images that come together as a portrait of youth. Donovan’s lyric takes in medieval imagery of rooks and dragons, the fairy tales of the album title (“Jewelled castles I have built/With freak feelings of guilt/And the words stab to the hilt/Pick the flower and it will wilt/Cat’s a-shifting in the sun”) and jabs at modern society, too (“Marionette dangles death/Insensitivity is fed/By the TV wizard’s wand/Once in the spell you’re conned”). Returning to the image of a cat sleeping, yawning, smiling in the sun, the song is open to a variety of interpretations, but heralded an original voice in popular music. “Summer Day Reflection Song” introduces the haunting undercurrent that would blossom fully on later hits like “Season of the Witch” and “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”

Donovan didn’t possess the bitterness or world-weariness of Dylan or many of his other contemporaries in the folk movement; or rather, if he did, he kept it hid. His impressionistic lyrics didn’t shy away from darkness, though, even if they were frequently filtered through a kind of wide-eyed observation. Like his contemporaries, though, he was acutely aware of the world around him. A highlight of the six Hickory singles that open The Essential is his rendition of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier.” Though mostly content to perform his own material, Donovan clearly identified with the song’s anti-war sentiment. Yet none of these songs could have prepared listeners for what was to come.

Hit the jump for more, won’t you?

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Written by Joe Marchese

April 17, 2012 at 15:04

Posted in Compilations, Donovan, Reissues, Reviews

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Release Round-Up: Week of April 17

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Janis Joplin, The Pearl Sessions (Columbia/Legacy)

Essentially a new double-disc deluxe edition of Joplin’s final album, with mono single mixes and a heap of mostly unreleased session outtakes as bonus tracks.

Little Richard, Here’s Little Richard (Specialty/Concord)

One of the cornerstone albums of modern rock is newly remastered and expanded with two demos, video content and an interview with Specialty label founder Art Rupe.

Bob Marley & The Wailers, Marley: The Original Soundtrack (Tuff Gong/Island)

It won’t supplant Legend, but this new two-disc compilation (to tie in with the new film) features hits, early obscurities and an unreleased live version of “Jammin'” from the historic One Love Peace concert.

Aretha Franklin, Who’s Zoomin’ Who? Deluxe Edition (Funky Town Grooves)

The Queen of Soul’s legendary ’80s comeback, expanded with every mix and edit of hit singles like “Freeway of Love,” “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” and the title track.

Cowboy Copas/Little Willie John/The Ad Libs, Complete Hit SIngles As & Bs (Real Gone Music)

The latest from Real Gone compiles singles from pioneers of their genres (country for Cowboy Copas, doo-wop for The Ad Libs and R&B for Willie John).

Grand Funk Railroad, Mark, Don & Mel 1969-71 (Iconoclassic)

This classic GFR compilation has been released by Iconoclassic before, but previous copies were plagued with mastering issues. Now, they’ve all been cleared, and if you buy now, you’ll get a good one.

Luther Vandross, Hidden Gems (Epic/Legacy)

In honor of what would have been the late crooner’s birthday, a new single-disc compilation highlighting lesser-known album tracks and soundtrack rarities.

Donovan/Brooks & Dunn/Alan Jackson/Mariah CareyThe Essential (Legacy)

Four double-disc Essential sets from Legacy, but only one (from recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Donovan) isn’t a repackaging of a prior compilation.

Wear Your Love Like Heaven: New “Essential Donovan” Arriving From Legacy

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I’m just mad about Donovan, and while I don’t know whether Donovan’s mad about me, you just might be mad about The Essential Donovan!  Though a single-disc compilation of that name arrived from Epic Records and Legacy Recordings in 2004, the 2012 edition does it one (or a few, actually) better.  Slated for April 17, the new Essential Donovan coincides with Donovan Leitch’s long-overdue induction next month into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  It features 36 songs on two discs, including every one of the 18 songs Donovan brought to the Billboard Hot 100 and U.K. national chart between 1965 and 1973.  In addition to those 18 core hits, 14 deep album cuts have been selected as well as four rare tracks making their very first domestic appearance on CD.  More than half of the tracks on Disc One are heard in their original mono mixes, including all of Donovan’s acoustic-based tracks recorded for the U.K.’s Pye label (and released in the U.S. on the Hickory imprint) in late 1964 and 1965, as well as a number of Epic sides from 1966.

Donovan Philips Leitch didn’t have an easy time shaking off the early accusation that he was merely a Scottish-born clone of Bob Dylan. Indeed, the opening track on The Essential Donovan, the 1965 hit “Catch the Wind,” wouldn’t dissuade one from that opinion.  Dylan himself took potshots at the singer in the documentary Don’t Look Back, snidely remarking, “Donovan who?” on camera and promptly upstaging him during a hotel visit.  Donovan himself didn’t deny the debt owed to Dylan, and in 2001, confessed, “I sounded like him for five minutes.”  Those five minutes were certainly up by 1966 when the Scottish troubadour released “Sunshine Superman,” one of the first truly psychedelic pop singles and certainly the first to reach No. 1 on the American charts.

Hit the jump and it’s 1966 all over again!  You’ll also find a complete track listing with discographical annotation! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 9, 2012 at 09:46

Short Takes: Paul is Digital, New Rock Hall Class, Rush Box Issues, The Cure Make “Wish” for 2012

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  • Paul McCartney is not dead, but he is digital: a new beta version of his website, developed with Hewlett-Packard, brings his solo catalogue to fans through a cloud service, along with a host of interactive features. Fans can stream all of his studio albums (including collaboration projects like The Fireman and Twin Freaks) through a jukebox, and premium members can download that jukebox as a desktop app. Additionally, a new “Rude Studio” section of his site allows fans to play and mix three-track stems of some of his greatest hits. Conspicuously absent is the bonus material from any of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection reissues. (Due credit to Super Deluxe Edition for their reportage.)
  • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees for 2012 have been announced. The Beastie Boys, Donovan, Guns N’ Roses, Laura Nyro, The Small Faces/Faces and The Red Hot Chili Peppers were rewarded in the performer category, Freddie King will be inducted as an early influence, the Ahmet Ertegun (nonperformer) award will go to Don Kirshner and the Awards for Musical Excellence go to producer Tom Dowd and engineers Cosimo Matassa and Glyn Johns. A hearty congratulations to all those recognized.
  • Rush have announced that production flaws exist on two of the three recently-released Sectors box sets. Fans have noted problems with Fly By Night (1975) in the Sector 1 box and the DVD version of A Farewell to Kings (1977) in Sector 2. A disc replacement program will be implemented shortly, per the band. (Thanks to Ultimate Classic Rock for the tip.)
  • Tuesday was grey (and Wednesday too) at Second Disc HQ, but it’s brightened with the news of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame non-inductees The Cure reissuing hit single “Friday I’m in Love” next year for Record Store Day and the Teenage Cancer Trust. The single, which you – yes, you – could design the cover art for – also looks to be a tie-in for a reissue of the album it came from, 1992’s Wish, for its 20th anniversary, so there’s another expansion we can look forward to in the coming year. (Hat tips abound to Slicing Up Eyeballs for this one.)

Written by Mike Duquette

December 7, 2011 at 15:40

Superman and Green Lantern Still Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Him: Donovan Preps Expanded “Sunshine Superman”

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It wasn’t easy for Donovan (real name: Donovan Philips Leitch) to shake the early accusation that he was merely a Scottish-born clone of Bob Dylan.  Surely songs like 1965’s “Catch the Wind” did nothing to dispel the myth.  Donovan himself acknowledged the debt in 2001, confessing “I sounded like him for five minutes” while pointing out the musical heroes referenced by both artists.  But any Dylan comparisons were passé by the time Donovan released Sunshine Superman, one of the first truly psychedelic pop records and certainly the first to reach No. 1 on the American charts.

EMI has announced plans for an expanded 2-CD version of Donovan’s classic 1966 Sunshine Superman album due on June 6. It’s timed with a Royal Albert Hall gig where the troubadour will perform the album in its entirety conducted by his original orchestrator, John Cameron.  Sunshine Superman teamed Donovan with producer Mickie Most, also well-known for his productions for Lulu, Herman’s Hermits and The Animals.  Together with arranger Cameron, Donovan brought Eastern instrumentation to the mainstream in a unique blend of jazz, rock, pop and folk.  The acoustic guitars, sitars, tablas, harpsichords and organs gave the album a sound unlike any other heard on Top 40 radio at that time.  But it all wasn’t sunshine behind the scenes.  Hit the jump for the story of Sunshine Superman plus the full track listing and discographical information for EMI’s upcoming reissue! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 10, 2011 at 13:00

Posted in Donovan, News, Reissues