While Sony-BMG has long been probably the best of the majors (you've got to give props to a major label with an actual customer service division that will replace your defective copies of their CDs at no charge), I feel they have done a very scattershot job on many of their classic artists where remasters are concerned. (Still not quite as horrible as the short shrift EMI has given the Beatles' CD catalogue, which sorely deserve some audiophile remasters--SACD, anyone? Preferably hybrid? Even DualDisc, which I am lukewarm about, would do.) Donovan has probably suffered the most of any artist--the expanded remaster of his Greatest Hits album that Sony released in 1999 showed real promise, but beyond that and the Troubadour set, they dropped the ball. And those two comps only came out as well as they did because Donovan himself was directly involved. They haven't bothered with any of his original albums for Epic, save early CD releases of Sunshine Superman, Hurdy Gurdy Man and Barabajagal. EMI, Donovan's UK label when he left Pye (Hickory in the US), has definitely picked up the slack with their recent remasters, however, and Sony ought to take a page from their book and license those CDs for U.S. release on the Legacy imprimatur--snap to it, Sony!
Fortunately, they *have* presented us with this lovely box set, which redeems them considerably. This, as some reviewers have noted, is certainly not for the casual Donovan fan (they'd do better just buying the Greatest Hits CD) but for the truly dedicated who have great regard for this gentle Celtic bard. And they've presented us with a wealth of gems--this was the first time I'd heard the single mix of "Catch the Wind" (nice, though I feel the version with just Donovan on guitar, voice and harmonica and Brian Locking on bass is superior--for simplicity's sake if nothing else), and there are more of the Pye/Hickory tracks here than on prior Sony comps (although Summer Day Reflection Songs, released in 2000, covers those first 2 albums most completely). I loved the live tracks recorded for (but not included on) the In Concert album--absolutely magickal versions of "Epistle to Derroll" and "To Try for the Sun" that make me wish I'd been able to see Donovan live on his most recent tour of the States--and the unissued Moon in Capricorn tracks like "She Moved Through the Fair" (one of the best versions of that traditional Irish ballad I've yet heard), "Lord of the Reedy River" and Ewan MacColl's "The Traveling People," which Donovan performs just beautifully, and the B-side "The Song of the Wandering Aengus" (even more captivating than Judy Collins' 1962 recording of that song). And this, too, is a career-spanner for Donovan, covering the albums he released in America--there are a number of mid '80s releases for British RCA that remain out of print and which didn't really cover any new material, and his sole Arista album, 1977's Donovan, is not covered here--with a track each from Sutras ("Please Don't Bend") and Beat Cafe ("Love Floats," a sexy, atmospheric song that slightly recalls "Barabajagal").
The real bonus, however, is the DVD containing the documentary "There is an Ocean." While I could have done without watching Donovan's stepson, Julian Jones, having an innocuous little boy's pee on the side of a hill, the rest is certainly worth watching, seeing Donovan, Candy John Carr and Mike Thomson set up and play open-air acoustic sets for native Greek and international hippie audiences, playing songs from the Open Road album and other projects that would surface later on. There are tracks that I wish they had included on the box--I particularly miss "Breezes of Patchulie," "The Quest," "Yellow Star," "What the Soul Desires" and a couple others included on Troubadour--but if one really needs these tracks, Troubadour is indeed still in print, and there are EMI's expanded remasters. For now, we have this set, which is certainly fine. Kudos to Sony for finally getting it together, and kudos to Donovan for all the wonderful music he's given us.