Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon

Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon

If all you knew about Devendra Banhart was his “freak folk” designation, you might expect to hear a strange, shambling, disjointed, whimsical singer-songwriter. And, boy, you’d be right on the money, too. But that’s not the complete picture. There’s beauty, sincerity, mysticism, and genuine creativity at work here as well, providing a necessary counterweight to his more fanciful, indulgent tendencies. Banhart hunkered down in Topanga Canyon with his band and a pawnshop’s orchestra of creaky-sounding instruments to produce his fifth album. It’s not especially difficult to pinpoint the musical era that most delights and inspires him — call it 1968 to 1972 — and one can hear echoes of artists like Donovan, Syd Barrett, Nick Drake, and even Jim Morrison. It’s Caetano Veloso, however, who still holds the most sway over Banhart, and Veloso’s intoxicating tropicalismo concoction inculcates tracks like “Cristobal,” “Samba Vexillographica,” and “Carmencita.” Meanwhile, the eight-minute “Seahorse” conjures the bleary-eyed jazz-folk of Astral Weeks-era Van Morrison before hitting a distinctly CSNY-sounding patch of guitar-fueled rock. Spooky yet serene, monumentally weird yet vaguely familiar, Banhart’s music may very well cast a spell on unsuspecting listeners looking for something singular and memorable, if not always profound and moving.

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