You know the silly season is in full effect when one of the summer’s most notable comebacks involves flower-power poster boy Donovan, whose first album of new material in 12 years, Sutras, is due in October. Back in the ’60s, the dog days just didn’t seem complete without one of the Scottish minstrel’s hot-weather hits — ”Sunshine Superman,” ”Hurdy Gurdy Man,” ”Atlantis” — wafting beatifically over the airwaves like banana-scented aural incense.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the peace-and-love-associated singer’s return is that it is being engineered by rap/metal impresario Rick Rubin. Rubin personally sought out the reclusive singer, signed him to his American Recordings label, and has spent more than two years producing the new album. According to Donovan, who lives in County Cork, Ireland, the pairing isn’t as odd as it would appear. ”I found in Rick Rubin a kindred soul,” says Donovan, now 50. ”When I visited his home and looked in his library, I saw he was reading the very same New Age books I had picked up the month before.”
Donovan chalks it all up to ”synchronicity,” and he may be onto something. In the past several years, a small-scale resurgence of interest in his music has taken place. In 1990, the British rave group Happy Mondays recorded a tribute song, fittingly called ”Donovan,” and the recently released I Shot Andy Warhol soundtrack features covers of two of his tunes. Then there are his progeny, who have become modest celebrities in their own right: his daughter, actress Ione Skye, and his son, Donovan Leitch, who fronts the glam-rock band Nancy Boy. Of his relationship with the latter, Donovan says: ”We’re just becoming friends now. He was raised by his mother and his stepfather. His music is — very different from mine.”
Sutras, says the singer, was recorded ”with one [eye] on Buddhism and the other on Tower Records.” He may well need all the metaphysical solace he can get: In mid-July Donovan was forced to cancel a 13-date North American tour when the U.S. embassy in London denied him a visa. The reason? A 1966 marijuana conviction. Although the visa has since been granted (alas, too late to salvage the tour) and no official explanation has been offered for the delay, Donovan’s Stateside spokesperson Heidi Ellen Robinson guesses he was snagged by newly sophisticated computer recordkeeping. Still, she’s mystified. ”Ninety-nine percent of the album was recorded here,” she says. ”Plus, he’s toured in the U.S. within the last eight or nine months.” Hey, maybe somebody at that embassy’s been smoking banana peels…