Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon

With big choruses, pristine production values, sing-alongs, and much lovelorn balladry could it be that Devendra Banhart is about to cross over?

We should be grateful that Devendra Banhart has hitherto displayed little in the way of careerist nous. Not content with looking like one of the Brazil squad from the ‘82 World Cup, or being hailed as a genius by such luminaries as Vashti Bunyan and Antony Hegarty, when the mood takes him, the Venezuelan-raised prankster is also capable of channelling the liberationist spirit of Tropicalismo while nodding simultaneously in the direction of both Bert Jansch and Marc Bolan. In fact the so-called ‘new folk Jesus’ ticks so many boxes you’d have to hate him, if he wasn’t so dependably slack.

Stand this hyperactive bundle of fuzzy-logic and solar-powered talent beside the mordant slew of singer-songwriters/neo-buskers currently polluting our airwaves, and the effect on the general populace would be jarring. And to be fair, with his penchant for loose, bongo-led wig-outs, and on-stage mystical pronouncements, he’s about as likely to be invited on Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway as Harold Pinter. As you’d perhaps expect of someone who began wearing a turban through customs after 9/11, however, garnering popular acceptance is way down Dev’s list of day-to-day priorities. Not when there are pagan deities to write about, or obscure tribal rhythms to explore.

But give Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon a play – and all of a sudden a very strange prospect looms into view. With big choruses, pristine production values, sing-alongs, and much lovelorn balladry – with Beatles-esque flourishes and shit-hot stoner rock crescendos aplenty – with, in short, tunes like ‘Sea Side’, ‘Rosa’ and ‘The Other Woman’ to simply fall over and die for – could it be that Devendra Banhart, beard and all, is about to cross over?

After hearing that, some fans may fear that ...Thunder Canyon is a creative short back and sides; they shouldn’t worry – if anything it’s just benefited from a much-needed and highly flattering wash, comb-through and trim. Deliriously inventive and coursing with good natured fun and playfulness (check out the way ‘Sea Horse’ mutates from Dave Brubeck to QOTSA in one effortless swoop; or the doo-wop oddity ‘Shabor Shalom’), it’s still full of endearing hippy bollocks. It’s the irritating hippy bollocks that’s been given the push.

The record’s cast-list includes actor Gael Garcia Bernal (‘Cristobal’), Chris Robinson of The Black Crows (‘Samba Vexillographica’) and Strokes’ guitarist Nick Valensi (‘Shabop Shalom’), but it’s Banhart’s presence that dominates proceedings. In some other universe he’s perhaps the biggest rock star on the planet. ...Thunder Canyon offers the crazily unlikely prospect of his tilting for the title here on Earth.

 

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