The Album -- Richie Havens, "Connections" (Elektra 6E-242).; The Show -- At the Cellar Door, Tuesday through Thursday at 8 and 10:30. tCall 337-3389.

Old folkies will be curious, but only hardcore fans will be impressed with Richie Havens' latest soft-rock hodgepodge, "Connections." A trooper on the anti-war circuit who came to national prominence via Woodstock, Havens will be appearing, in his new mellowed incarnation, at the Cellar Door this Tuesday through Thursday. It's not the Richie of the protest era.

On this, his umpteenth album, Havens comes through with his rhythm guitar, singing sincere ballads in his ever-raspy voice. But what's unsettling is the selection of material -- ranging from Sam Cooke to Stevie Nicks -- that doesn't approach the originals in vocal spirit or musical flair. One of the album's best songs, Tom Waits' "Ol'55," makes you want to go out and buy the earlier version: Havens picks up the pace but adds little to the freeway classic.

On slower tunes, Havens' hoarse interpretations seem to fade away altogether. He throws Caribbean congas and tambourines into the mix of "Every Night," but the tune will always belong to Paul McCartney in the English countryside. The lyrical "Dreams," by Fleetwood Mac's Nicks, is possibly the worst casting for Havens' deep-throat style. While his earthy voice may be considered sensual by some, it echoes of grimy street demonstrations. Inevitably he's compared to the flights of Nicks' super vocals -- and he loses.

Granted, Havens' strength has always been dramatic delivery, not resonant vocal quality. His is a voice of protest, not poetry. But the ballads assembled on "Connections" -- comments on love either soaring or slipping -- are a far cry from the political Havens we remember chanting "Freedom." Only "Going Back to My Roots," a hard-edged message-rock cut, returns to his musical past.

Ultimately, "Connections" leaves us with a batch of uninspired retreads and cliches. The album's closing number, "Here's a Song," is the only one Havens authored (with Denny Randell), and it's slow and sappy: I know we're gonna be together Like the colors of the rainbow For all time, darlin', whether it's rainy weather, In perfect harmony we'll grow.

Oh boy. It's soothing, but strictly middle-of-the-road, the sentiments of a '60s hero gone bland. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, Copyright (c) 1980, Chris Callas.