Devendra Banhart Cripple Crow

[XL; 2005]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles:  folk
Others: Six Organs of Admittance, The Mountain Goats, Vetiver

The first thing I notice about Cripple Crow is that it doesn't have some crazy story behind the recording. Oh Me Oh My had the borrowed and broken four track records, the answering machines, the gun shots. Rejoicing in the Hands and Niño Rojo had Banhart sitting on a stool in a big room, 12 hours a day for two weeks. Cripple Crow has... Woodstock, NY and the Catskills. Has Banhart finally ditched the whole "crazy nomad/eccentric troubadour" bit? Well, sort of -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Let's do the bad first: Cripple Crow is too long. With 22 songs clocking in at just under 75-minutes, it's a bit much to swallow in one sitting. Granted, Banhart breaks it up by throwing in short, 1- and 2-minute songs every few tracks, but it's still tough to get through the whole thing in one go-round. Even so, I'd rather have one long album that I can split up myself than being suckered into buying one record for the price of two (ala Rejoicing/Niño), so that complaint is pretty minor.

But the bigger problem is that Cripple Crow finds Banhart doing what many didn't want him to do or thought he couldn't do: make a pretty lackluster album. Don't get me wrong, Banhart is easily one of my favorite artists in the last five years, and I'll stand by my statement that he hasn't recorded a bad song yet. And Cripple Crow is no different; there's not a single bad song in the bunch... just a bunch of mediocre ones. Halfway through songs like "Lazy Butterfly," "When They Come," and "Korean Dogwood" you'll find yourself thinking, "This is good...but what's next?" and skipping ahead. And after three extremely solid albums, it's kind of a disappointment to be skipping songs on a record from someone who used to hold our attention the whole time.

But for every song you feel like skipping, there's "Long Haired Child," with its fuzzed out guitar, or "I Feel Like a Child," a (dare I say it) groovy jam that will have everyone in listening range shaking their asses. "Now That I Know" and "I Love That Man" both employ cello to wondrous effect, and "Santa Maria De Feira" has a gentle flute line flying around Banhart's guitar and the shuffling percussion. "I Do Dig a Certain Girl" is a sweet little love song that will probably find its way onto more than a few mixtapes in the next few months, and "Inaniel" is a somber song with a heart-broken violin pacing around in the background.

It's that new instrumentation that will probably be the biggest surprise to anyone who didn't catch Banhart on his last journey through his/her country. For those of us who did, it's great to have an album that has Devendra backed by a full band; and for those of you who didn't, you'll finally get to hear what all the fuss is about. The results push Banhart in a somewhat tamer direction; more Nick Drake than Syd Barret. The violins, cellos, flutes, sitars, and electric guitars add fantastic touches to the songs, and it's not that hard to imagine any of the songs on Cripple Crow in a Wes Anderson flick.

Even Devendra's lyrics are a bit tamer this time out. We still get songs about dragonflies and wolves, but there's nothing quite as bizarre as skin-licking suns or little yellow spiders. But Cripple Crow still has its fair share: "Chinese Children, "The Beatles," and "Little Boys" are all cut from the same insane cloth as Banhart's most wonderfully surreal songs; the cloth's just faded a bit.

Even with my complaints, it's still great to have another Devendra Banhart album to put on the shelf, especially one that goes so nicely with his others. Banhart's got a nice progression going, and Cripple Crow falls right in line. With the once eccentric troubadour maturing and settling into his sound, Banhart's possibilities are wide open. Here's hoping he doesn't stop anytime soon.

1. Now That I Know
2. Santa Maria De Feira
3. Heard Somebody Say
4. Long Haired Child
5. Lazy Butterfly
6. Quedate Luna
7. Queen Bee
8. I Feel Just Like a Child
9. Some People Ride the Wave
10. The Beatles
11. Dragonflys
12. Cripple Crow
13. Inaniel
14. Hey Mama Wolf
15. How's About Tellin a Story
16. Chinese Children
17. Sawkill River
18. I Love That Man
19. Luna De Margarita
20. Korean Dogwood
21. Little Boys
22. Canela

Most Read