Cripple Crow – Devendra Banhart
XL Recordings 192
Devendra Banhart is an endearing, childlike, scruffy-faced San Franciscan in need of an editor. Last year saw the release of two full-length LPs (_Rejoicing in the Hands_ and Nino Rojo), and now he greets us with the languidly sprawling mess of Cripple Crow, which finds him
abetted by a bevy of like-minded freeks with heads full of sun-soaked visions and psychedelic yearnings. Devendra slathers the tracks with his bizarrely non-sequitur imagery and distinctive warble and uses his kindred spirits to flesh out the affair. And it's really no more than fleshing out
Devendra's vision. You get the feeling that the now extant tracks sound exactly as they did in his head. In short, while this may technically be a fairly collaborative effort, Devendra's freaky stamp is on every note, bend, and tone.
The disc sprawls in every possible direction. Like any good sprawler, it's over-long, over-indulgent, and over-ambitious. From backward-looking psychedelic excursions to whispered Spanish entreaties to stomping nonsensical romps to… well it just keeps going really. Banhart tries a little bit of everything he imagines he might pull off, and he succeeds more often than not. If you think of him as a delightfully-dosed Ryan Adams on a love trip, you really aren't that far off.
Among the discs finer bits are: the drowsy "Heard Somebody Say" whose "I heard somebody say that the war ended today/but everybody knows it's going still" evokes a certain banner on a battleship somewhere, the dreamlike warble of "When They Come," the requisite Neil Young invocation, "Mama Wolf," which cops the hoary one's picking patterns above all else, "Lazy Butterfly" with its tapped tablas and swirling sitars, "Some People Ride the Wave" (replete with Kellerish mouth flugel), and the slow come on of "I Do Dig a Certain Girl." Plenty falls through the tracks, of course, which seems inevitable on a 22 track release.
The most whimsical absurd-ditties wear out their welcome first, but even in doing so they retain a certain childlike charm. "Chinese Children" and "I Fell Like a Child" aren't the annoying kids capering and jostling for your attention; they are the goofy little bastards doing their own thing in the corner who ignore you as you scoff at them, half-derisively, and turn
away with a smile.
So sure, Devendra could use an editor. Had he condensed last year's releases into a single disc or restrained his myriad impulses on Cripple Crow, he would be sitting on potentially stellar albums. But his work is so rife with images of childhood and birth that I suspect the whole "grow up
and make a real album" stage is years down the road. And in the end it's hard to fault him. After all, none of these tunes are outright clunkers, none of them have me reaching for the skip button. To some degree, the unfiltered sprawl is part of Banhart's charm. He's not the
"hey-looky-what-I-can-do!" kid as much as he is that happy little freak in the corner acting out invisible puppet shows, staging arguments between imaginary friends and then running out the door to hang upside down from a tree limb (sometimes doing it all at once). And who really wants to tell
that kid he's got it wrong?