Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: Devendra Banhart – Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon

When Devendra Banhart curated Golden Apples Of The Sun then dropped his fourth full-length, 2005’s Cripple Crow, we were at the height of our DB love. Around that time, though, something strange happened in the so-called Hairy Faerie camp. The moment, for us at least, can be traced to a Cripple-era Bowery Ballroom gig when Banhart and his freaky folksy pals suddenly seemed a wee bit annoying. The “bit” was upped to “extremely” months later during his set at the Pitchfork Music Festival. It was as if the more zaniness he crammed into his persona, the more breezily classic-rock generic the music itself sounded. Who knows what the show’s like nowadays (we’re currently on a live Banhart boycott), but Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon’s by far his mellowest, nightie night, lulling release to date. Right, it’s kinda boring. If our logic follows, guess that live show must be way wacky at this point.

Outside Banhart’s usual bearded posse, various guests stop by his mountainside crib: The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson lays down Argentinean charang (a string’d thing) on “Samba Vexillographica,” the Strokes’ Nick Valensi offers some sorta New York 2001 vibes to “Shabop Shalom,” and actor Gael Garcia Bernal (he played Che!) duets on “Cristobal.” What, no Lindsay?

Banhart’s been generously posting new tracks on his site, so some of Smokey should already be familiar. We’ve talked about the epic Doors-echoing “Seahorse” (turns out it’s one of the album’s best), conga-fied “Carmensita” and “Bad Girl,” a wispy gem we earlier described as a “truly lovely, slide and vocal wah-wah ballad.” Then there’s the smooth, somehow damp reggae stylings of “The Other Woman” and “Samba Vexilographica“‘s shaky … samba. Whoa, we’re having flashbacks.

Over the course of an hour and change, he delves deeper into sock-hop crooning, pretty piano blitzes, dozy church organ, dub, all sorts of expansiveness, struttin’ street-corner soul, Spanish singing: Banhart’s indeed spreading those wings, but damn if all the flapping isn’t making us nod out a bit! There’s a trio of gorgeous, dew-kissed ballads at the end (“Freely,” “I Remember,” and “My Dearest Friend”) … a shame it’s such rough going getting to ‘em. In pulpit-ready, Stonesian sing-a-long “Saved,” Banhart intones before his crack gospel choir: “I do need somebody to come wake me up, shake me up.” We hear ya, dude. While you’re on the look out for a shaker, might also want to find someone willing to edit you down some.

Smokey Rolls Down The Thunder Canyon is out 9/25 on XL.