Devendra Banhart – Cripple Crow (CD)

“Now That I Know” is slightly stronger of an opening than from any of Banhart’s previous album. There seems to be a little more Stevie Ray Vaughan and Kenny Wayne Shepherd than 1920s folk music on this opening track, making for something that does not sound quite as foreign as some of eir previous albums. The fuzziness of “Santa Maria De Feira” moves the sound of this disc into a much earlier Spanish-tinted genre, but the track tends to really spin its wheels owing much to the still-dreamy vocals of Banhart on a track that needs less anemia and a little bit more fire in the vocals.

Shifting the general sound of the disc again for “Heard Somebody Say”, Banhart takes up the fallen standards of early Beatles (Across The Universe-era) , even throwing a droning, almost-monotone chorus into the mix. “The Beatles” breaks any structural impediments and just finds itself going nowhere for nearly two minutes, while “Dragonflies” fares slightly better. “Dragonflies’” key victory is in the challenging guitar work that is done and a two-second fragment of Banhart’s vocals that sound Byrds-like in sound. “When They Come” is one of the only tracks on “Cripple Crow” that has enough of a formal structure and a full enough sound to honestly succeed. With bongos present and a rising action that surpasses nearly any other track, this tracks is easily the equivalent to “Tender”-era Blur. “Chinese Children” actually shows an electrified Banhart, and while the result is highly repetitive and lacking in experimentation, the fact is that the track is destined for alternative radio (even though the track is much more similar in structure to classic rock radio than anything).

Twenty-two tracks make the length of “Cripple Crow”, and while some of the tracks are sub-minute (“Butterflies”), the fact is that nearly seventy-five minutes go by from the beginning to the end. There are some endearing tracks on “Cripple Crow”, such as the nuanced “Korean Dogwood”, but there are others that do not further the disc or listeners’ conceptions about Banhart (such as “The Beatles”) that could have been deleted off the disc without anything in the way of lost continuity. “Little Boys” seems to mix a little bit of Conor Oberst with Elvis; this comparison really holds well for the entire disc, as there are equal influences from the earlier history of popular music mixing with the current trends in music to make something that is honestly quite different from anything else currently out on the market.

Top Tracks: Little Boys, Chinese Children

Rating: 5.0/10


Devendra Banhart – Cripple Crow / 2005 XL / 22 Tracks / / / Reviewed 09 October 2005

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