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Folkie offers more access, less excess

October 09, 2005|Richard Cromelin

Devendra Banhart

"Cripple Crow" (XL Recordings)

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LITTLE white monkey starin' at the sand / Well, maybe that monkey figured out something I couldn't understand...."

When Banhart sang that couplet on his last album, 2004's "Nino Rojo," he might have been describing his own puzzling appeal. With his idiosyncratic, witchy-woods folk music, the starry-eyed vagabond has conjured an enchanted realm that mystifies many but speaks strongly to a cozy little cult.

Banhart's fourth album is his most accessible, reining in his more mannered vocal tics and expanding the musical palette. If he's this generation's Donovan, "Cripple Crow" is his "Sunshine Superman," its rustic folk supplemented by light rock and funk grooves and some tamboura-and-tabla and Jefferson Airplane-like psychedelia.

Of course, accessibility is relative. Banhart's pleas for peace and harmony have a guileless charm, and in "When They Come" they assume an epic urgency. But his whimsy is often slight and indulgent, and four of the songs here are in Spanish. If he's going to sing in a foreign tongue, it might as well be one of his own.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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