Devendra Banhart
"Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon"

(XL Recordings 2007)Devendra Banhart - Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon

Recorded in Topanga Canyon, CA, Devendra Banhart's "Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon" is an imaginative and continually engaging album even as it is always changing. Joining Banhart for this go around are guests like The Black Crowes' Chris Robinson, The Strokes' Nick Valensi, Los Hermanos' Rodrigo Amarante and actor Gael García Bernal (who knew he could sing?). Partly gentle ballads and partly lively dance numbers, Banhart makes his return with "Smokey."

Banhart offers jaunty, loose dance numbers with the rhythmic "Samba Vexillographica" and the lively "Carmensita," while the jazz fusion of "Seahorse" morphs into a full rock jam Beach Boys style. Banhart invokes the twangy sound of The Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down" on "Bad Girl" as he sings of a boy's love for a rabbi's daughter in a '50s doo wop style on "Shabop Shalom." The bass thumping "Lover" offers an unlikely low key disco dance track. But when he buckles down for softer numbers, the result is just as memorable -- from the gentle lullaby "Cristobal" to "So Long Old Bean," which gallops by, invoking images of Banhart crooning from the Wild West. Even a light reggae lilt finds its way onto the album by way of "The Other Woman."

While Banhart's album advertises some notable guests that surely get attention, all the focus is unquestionably on Banhart himself throughout the entire album. "Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon" is a refreshing break in the indie rock scene. At times an updated take on Frank Zappa and The Beach Boys, at other times the focus is on a singer-songwriter who creates heartbreaking melodies, Banhart can seemingly do it all on "Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon."

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