Thursday, September 27, 2007
DEVENDRA BANHART | Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon | XL Recordings
When a new strange folk music started to seep out of the music underground, it seemed the genre’s title, “freak folk,” was pretty much named for one of its most popular practitioners, Devendra Banhart. With his Manson-esque beard and warbly voice, Banhart was definitely freakier than the more straight ahead folk and classic rock sound of other groups including Vetiver.
Known at first for primarily acoustic albums including 2004’s Rejoicing in the Hands, Banhart widened his range considerably with 2005’s Cripple Crow. Now, with the even more impressive Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, Banhart transcends the freak folk tag and proves that he is just freakishly talented.
Sure, there are still some folk numbers on the release including the hushed, orchestral “Seaside” and “Cristobal,” which is sung in Spanish. But, most of the album is a dizzying range of styles from the early reggae vibe of “The Other Woman” to the funk of “Lover” to the gospel rock of “Saved.” There are some experiments that shouldn’t work but do based on the strength of the songwriting including “Shabop Shalom,” which marries oldies rock, spoken word bits and lyrics about Jewish culture to describe the love affair between a Jamaican man and a Rabbi’s daughter.
A couple highlights on Smokey find Banhart doing something wholly unexpected: rocking. The epic, eight-minute long “Seahorse” builds from a low-key country tinged number to a compelling rock song, while on “Tonada Yanomaminista,” Banhart wails about a hallucinogenic experience like Jim Morrison back from the dead. —Stuart Thornton
JEFF KASHIWA | Play | Native Language
Best known as the popular former Rippingtons band member, saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa’s sixth solo release Play has a strong emphasis on energetic and up-tempo music.
The first five cuts are as intense as any smooth jazz you’ll find today. Following a solo sax prologue and running from “The Lucky One” through “Blue Jeans,” Kashiwa’s solos are longer, more adventurous and employ melodies more rocking than previous work.
The hip title track is a perfect vehicle for his trademark extended solo lines; something we’ve heard too rarely since Rips days. Also, the extended solo closing “Blue Jeans” is full of in-the-pocket phrases, and the tight backing horns on “The Lucky One” give an extra push to Kashiwa’s authoritative melodic phrases.
While the disc eventually moves away from the great opening vibe, gems still exist later. “New View” is a sweet melancholy ride with touches of an almost straight-ahead sound worked into its R&B flavoring and “One Good Turn” is clever in its use of multiple sax harmonies. —Thomas Erdmann
RICHARD THOMPSON | Sweet Warrior | Shout Factory
Richard Thompson was quoted somewhere a few years back saying he didn’t like to listen to contemporary pop music, but that he didn’t mind creating it and inflicting it on others. Good for us.
The album opens with “Needle and Thread,” an excellent example of what has become a Thompson trademark: country- and Celtic-tinged guitar rock. The central metaphor finds his protagonists attempting to save themselves from their own worst tendencies, i.e., sewing their souls back together again.
The unofficial master of gloom and doom, Thompson sends a dark warning with “Take Care the Road You Choose.”
Through vehicles such as pub-rock dance numbers (“Bad Monkey”), bouncy sideshow music (“Mr. Stupid”), spooky swamp rock (“Dad’s Gonna Kill Me”) and luminescent folk (“Sunset Song”), Thompson explores themes of self-loathing, the dark heart of the soul, the war in Iraq, infidelity, waning love and “old Death a-walking.”
With Sweet Warrior, Thompson makes some of the cheeriest scary music around. —Gene Armstrong