Donovan Sutras

[American; 1996]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: folk, soft-rock, ballads
Others: Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch, Nick Drake

These DeLorean entries tend to focus toward forgotten classics. Well, here's one that's merely pleasant. Actually one that isn't merely pleasant, because it's performed by the legendary folkie Donovan Leitch. So classically pleasant wins the day. I've never really cared for that Beastie Boys debut, but I gotta hand it to former BB’s producer Rick Rubin for allowing Donovan's love songs to be as simple, spare and acoustic as they are on this record. The lyrics are somewhat trite, but Leitch's aged, yet recognizable voice can occasionally make you forget this. Still, while listening to something like "Everlasting Sea," I can't believe this is the same guy that wrote "Jersey Thursday." Then I remember "Colors," a song whose sappy sentiments are neutralized by assailing warmth, and I feel like letting up.

Which brings us to the actual tunes, lilting and lovely, thoughtful and roomy; perhaps there is nothing as strong as the best of his discography, but - for the most part - the mood he sets is head and shoulders above a lot of his previous work. "The Way" is the first significant misstep. The dippy number is a little too slight, too fey to be at home on this LP, even as a (unneeded) change of pace. Especially when placed after the moody highlight "The Clear-Browed One."

And so, as it turns out, I can't let up. The problem I consistently have with this release is the nagging simplicity and drabness of the darn lyrics. I normally don't need to appreciate or understand lyrics to get into a song. Even a folk song - which apparently depends on poetry or storytelling or both. These songs feature Donovan's voice prominently and succinctly, as if to suggest that the words are the key to the enjoyment of the release. And as a consequence there are some tiresome, (some might say tried and true) corny-ass lyrics on this album! Bad poetry abounds, with the exception of "Eldorado," whose lyrics contain the Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same name.

He makes the progressions, which feel old as time, seem like window dressing for his boho greeting card sentiment. This album reeks of aged patchouli and stale incense and crusty peppermint. That, after all these years, unsung folk hero Vashti Bunyan is finally releasing her follow-up (and a little birdy told me it's a beaut!) makes me realize why those in the limelight tend to slip into mediocrity. Sutras is the sound of a folk singer whose still got his acoustic guitar, and his pipes, but seems to be coasting through on idle sentiment. And this is nine years ago, folks. Stripped down or not, these songs are as limp and ineffective as any old adult-contempo, eastern philosophy/religion obsessed singer-songwriter jive around.

An older friend of mine lent me this after I made him copies of Iron & Wine, Linda Perhacs and Ms. Bunyan. I tried, but ultimately suppose I like a little more fragility, a little more mystery to my folk music. It was a nice gesture, though. Fans of Donovan (admittedly I don't care for much besides the songs I mentioned) should seek this out. It's not so far removed from the sounds of his heyday. It's not that it's earnest, but that it sounds transparently earnest that made me rate it the way I did. Curious, burgeoning folk lovers like myself (so what if we started with a Volkswagen ad and the Rushmore soundtrack!) might want to comb a friends Donovan collection and fashion their own comp rather than communing with Sutras.

1. Please Don't Bend
2. Give It All Up
3. Sleep
4. Everlasting Sea
5. High Your Love
6. The Clear-Browed One
7. The Way
8. Deep Peace
9. Nirvana
10. Eldorado
11. Be Mine
12. Lady of the Lamp
13. The Evernow
14. Universe Am I