Devendra Banhart’s innate weirdness is both a blessing and a curse. While the 26-year-old rode his eccentricity all the way to the head of the neo-freak-folk movement (of course, stellar albums such as 2005’s Cripple Crow didn’t hurt either), those not enamored with his hippie-dippie shtick tend to dismiss him, and his tunes. Which would be a shame, at least where Banhart’s latest collection of songs, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, is concerned.
A pleasing, tranquil amalgamation of garage rock, campfire folk and classic rock—think a calm day spent watching the ocean—the album proves that the singer-songwriter is much more than the sum of his quirks. In fact, Canyon’s impact lies in its linear elements and his lovely interpretations of classic motifs. “Sea Horse” features a Hendrix-like guitar solo and Banhart quavering like Jim Morrison, a gospel choir chimes in on “Saved,” and “Shabop Shalom” conjures the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons doo-wop hit “Stay.” But Banhart’s unique background (specifically, his Venezuelan upbringing) influences most of Canyon’s highlights; fluttery Spanish guitars and gravelly vocal turns—often sung in lilting Spanish, to great effect—reveal a solemnity that’s quite moving.
Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon