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Cripple Crow

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Album Review

Cripple Crow marks a departure for Devendra Banhart. It's obvious from the faux Sgt. Pepper-meets-Incredible String Band freak scene cover photo that something is afoot. The disc is Banhart's first foray from Michael Gira's Young God label, and it's more adventurous than anything he's done before. This is not to imply that the set is a slick, over-produced affair, but it is a significant change. The instrumental, stylistic, and textural range on this 23-song set is considerably wider than it's been in the past. Working with Noah Georgeson and Thom Monahan, a backing band of friends known as "the Hairy Fairies", Banhart's crafted something expansive, colorful, and perhaps even accessible to a wider array of listeners. There are layered vocals and choruses of backing singers, as well as piano and flutes on the gorgeous "I Heard Somebody Say," while the electric guitar and drums fuelling "Long Haired Child," with its reverb-drenched backing vocals, is primitive, percussive, and dark. There is also the 21st century psychedelic jug band stomp of the second single, "I Feel Just Like a Child," that crosses the nursery rhyme melodics of Mississippi John Hurt with the naughty boy swagger of Marc Bolan. There are also five songs in Spanish, Banhart's native tongue, in a style that's a cross between flamenco and son. The title cut, "Cripple Crow," is one of the most haunting anti-war songs around. In it, Banhart places a new generation in the firing line, and urges them to resist not with violence, but with pacifistic refusal. A lone acoustic guitar, hand drums, a backing chorus, and a lilting, muted flute all sift in with one another to weave a song that feels more like a prayer. The lone cover here, of Simon Diaz's "Luna de Margaerita," drips with the rawest kind of emotion. Ultimately, Cripple Crow is a roughly stitched tapestry; it is rich, varied, wild, irreverent, simple, and utterly joyous to listen to.

Customer Reviews

Audio Zen

It's Folk, Blues, Psychedelia, Rock, with a bit of the Parisian Cafe thrown in. It haunts you and confuses you, you can't define it it's just there audio Zen. Amazing!

Thumbs up

You have to be in the right mood to listen to this album, otherwise you'll get impatient and give up and put something else on. However, just like all the best albums, approach it the right way and you'll reap the rewards. Put it on late at night, curl up on a couch with a beer (or whatever), and enjoy.

Diverse & inspired

I got in to Devendra Banhart's music through this material, and have since got hold of everything he has released. He is one of a kind, and I can't think of anyone around at the moment with such a unique sound, voice and songwriting talent. (I'd particularly recommend 'Nino Rojo' as a next step if you like this...oh, and I think he spent some of his childhood in Venezuela although he is based in the U.S.). Like all top artisits, DB has not tried to stick to a successful formula, but in Cripple Crow he has reinvented his sound. There is a greater range of instruments used compared to his early 'guitar & vocal' stuff, with most of these tracks featuring violin/percussion/piano, some of the tracks have a harder-edge sound, and some sounding like a late-night get together of disparate friends & musicians! There more humour too. There are also key similarities to Rejoicing.../Nino Rojo, of course, such as the vocal performances, great lyrics and peculiar themes of some songs. I'd also agree with the other reviewer who said that it grows on you - some of the less upbeat numbers such as Queen Bee, Canela and the title track can get lost among the 22 songs at first, but they may become your favourites. It's certainly an album that benefits from actually listening, it is not background music!


Born: 30 May 1981 in Houston, TX

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela and Los Angeles, Devendra Banhart was always playing music and drawing. But it wasn't until his brief stay at the San Francisco Art Institute that the disciplines became his constant companions. With the encouragement of poet and SFAI professor Bill Berskon, Banhart began experimenting with all kinds of art. He also began recording songs around that same time, usually on shoddy, hand-me-down four-track machines. Brief, half-finished, or written in stream-of-consciousness...
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