Donovan – The Hurdy Gurdy Man

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  • The Hurdy Gurdy Man finally returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it throughout
  • Shockingly rich, spacious and lively, in the best tradition of vintage analog – Donovan’s recordings are hit and miss, but with Eddie Kramer at the controls, this one is clearly a hit
  • Among the supporting musicians were three soon-to-be members of Led Zeppelin: Jimmy Page (who had already contributed to Donovan sessions in the past), John Paul Jones (likewise a veteran of sessions for Donovan), and John Bonham”
  • “… uplifting, accessible, pop-rock numbers with a splash of jazz or Caribbean flavor, rounding out an excellent album of the highest musicianship, lyric writing, and songcraft from an era.”

*NOTE On side two, a mark makes 3 loud pops halfway through Track 1, Jennifer Juniper.

An outstanding pressing of what we consideDonovan’s best album, musically and sonically. The 1968 sound here is wonderful — rich, sweet, Tubey Magical and very, very Analog.

Donovan records tend to be hit or miss affairs, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that we could not find a bad track on either side of the album. Most are in fact quite wonderful.

Both Yellow Label Epics and Orange Label Epics fared well in our shootout. (We could find no Blue/ Black later labels to play.) Finding any pressing with clean surfaces was another matter, but we managed to have a pretty healthy group with which to do our shootout.

Some of these tracks may remind you more than a little of Pentangle. Danny Thompson, that band’s amazingly talented and unusually well recorded double bassist, just happens to be the bass player on the album. Go figure. Tony Carr does most of the drumming as he has on many of Donovan’s albums from the period. Needless to say, the rhythm section is first-rate.

What the best sides of The Hurdy Gurdy Man have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1968
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

This vintage Epic pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What We’re Listening For on The Hurdy Gurdy Man

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Eddie Kramer in this case — would have put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

A Must Own Pop Record

This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious audiophile Popular Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Hurdy Gurdy Man 
Peregrine 
The Entertaining of a Shy Girl
As I Recall It 
Get Thy Bearings 
Hi It’s Been a Long Time 
West Indian Lady

Side Two

Jennifer Juniper 
The River Song 
Tangier 
A Sunny Day 
The Sun Is a Very Magic Fellow 
Teas

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

… HURDY GURDY MAN further benefits from eastern Indian classical influences as in previous inclusions of sitar, tablas, and other instruments, but takes these patterns a step further with the inclusion of harmonic drones. Chiefly used in Peregrine, The River Song, and Tangier, the effect is hypnotic. Those who enjoy and are familiar with Led Zeppelin’s song In The Light (Physical Graffiti) will appreciate the earlier use of this. Hurdy Gurdy Man itself was released as a very successful psychedelic-electric single and to that date was Donovan’s hardest rock song yet. The electric guitar leads swirled around the listener and no doubt Page contributed to this song! It charted to #4 on the Billboard charts and #5 in the UK. In addition to distorted guitar leads, an east Indian tambura is played by Donovan for seasoning on what would soon be labeled the “Celtic Rock” sound and what would eventually form into Led Zeppelin. The tambura was a gift from George Harrison.

… Most of the other songs on the original album are uplifting, accessible, pop-rock numbers with a splash of jazz or Caribbean flavor, rounding out an excellent album of the highest musicianship, lyric writing, and songcraft from an era. Get Thy Bearings, West Indian Lady, and Teas are significant standouts, but HURDY GURDY MAN is the one Donovan album I pick out as perfect with no warts. Even the bonus material on the CD is the best addition out of all four of the EMI reissues. Laleña already covered above, is accompanied by its B-side Aye My Love and the B-side from Hurdy Gurdy Man single, Teen Angel, both are fine songs. Poor Cow, the B-side to Jennifer Juniper was written for and used in the film of the same name, another very poignant song. What A Beautiful Creature You Are is a duet sung with the amazing Lulu, an infectious, happy, and slightly sexy song with a wisp of Jamaica Mon! Finally, HURDY GURDY MAN is rounded out by the bonus track addition of re-recorded (and actually better sounding) singles of Colours and Catch The Wind which first made their appearance on Epic Records 1969 release of Donovan’s Greatest Hits, when Pye Records would deny them access to his first two hit singles. Including them here was pure genius on the part of EMI!

I’ve given all five of the “hippy” albums, and the small label pastiche Catch The Wind folk album, 5-Stars, but I would like to say that HURDY GURDY MAN, for me, is the 5th Star above the others. Stellar!

-Beatlenik, September 16, 2011