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-- Hobart Rowland

Donovan
Sutras
American Recordings

American Recordings's publicity machinery touts the importance of Sutras, Donovan's first studio effort in 13 years, with the aid of a John Lennon quote meant to establish the timeless relevance of hippy-pop's twee-est practitioner. In it, the Beatle proclaims that Donovan "is as important and influential as Bob Dylan and we are ... listen, the man's a poet."

Bullshit. No rightfully sane person believes the first part, and as for the poetry part, go ahead, read his poetry (compiled in the hard-to-find book Dry Songs and Scribbles) to disillusion yourself of any overestimation. As for Sutras, the rhymes are of the me/sea variety. If my CD player were capable of tallying word repetition, I'd wager "love," "you" and "heart" would top the list in the high dozens.

So toss the poetry idea. Producer Rick Rubin probably thought it important to add some gravity to the Donovan nobody's heard a peep from in years, but that may have been his central mistake. The mahogany-deep acoustic sparseness that worked so well for Rubin with Johnny Cash backfires here; it's like he's put a marble tabletop on legs of kindling. Donovan has always been the most fun as a goofy cipher warbling slightly oddball pop songs. "Hurdy Gurdy Man," "Sunshine Superman," "Mello Yello," "Season of the Witch," "Jennifer Jupiter" -- you can't not love that stuff.

But there's none of that here. With Rubin missing badly behind the boards, Donovan runs through a mostly somber, magisterial set that won't suffer from misimpressions if I just list the titles: "Everlasting Sea," "The Clear-Browed One," "The Way," "Deep Peace," "Nirvana," "The Evernow," "Universe Am I" and the tragically stupid pun "High Your Love." The only place where Donovan doesn't bore the hell out of you is with the love songs (the few that sound like they're addressed to people, rather than the whole groovin' universe), especially "Please Don't Bend." Elsewhere, Rubin and his subject get lost in the foggy question of just what it is that Donovan might have to offer us these days. (* 1/2)

-- Brad Tyer

CDs are rated on a one to five star scale.

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