Devendra Banhart: Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (XL)

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Devendra Banhart: Cristobal
Devendra Banhart: Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (XL)

Widely credited as the figurehead of the neo-folk movement (which owes more to early jazzy folk-rocking Donovan than Dylan in its encompassing vision and musical ambition), Texas-born Banhart has delivered a series of fascinating albums notable for their diversity.

Drawing on traditional folk, world music and trippy psychedelic styles (and lyrics), Banhart has staked out such a broad piece of territory that he has been free to wander where he will. He has collaborated with Anglofolk legend Bert Jansch and Yoko Ono, and this new album features Chris Robinson (Black Crowes), Nick Valensi of the Strokes and Rodrigo Amarante of the Brazilian indie-rock outfit Los Hermanos.

Not that this means Smokey rocks out. Far from it.

Recorded in Topanga Canyon (much favoured by 70s Californian singer-songwriters) and with his small band of multi-instrumentalists, Banhart offers a more cohesive and intimate collection of songs than on some of his previous outings.

Very amusing too, not po-faced folk at all.

Musically he rambles easily from Hispanic influences to Anglofolk, and in the eight-minute track Seahorse brings in a kind of world music/jazz consciousness (cf Donovan) which rides fluttering flute and dreamy, choppy guitar chords.

When he includes George Harrison-styled slide, soul sounds on Lover, a gospel choir on Saved, and a funny 50s crooner ballad entitled Shabop Shalom you can hear why one reviewer has pinned this as his White Album.

Yet despite that musical diversity, it is Banhart's enticing vocals which are central and keep this fascinating album -- his best yet -- right on track.

If the name is new to you, this is where you sign up.

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