erasing clouds

3 Music Reviews

Devendra Banhart, Cripple Crow (XL Recordings)

If Devendra Banhart's debut album Oh Me Oh My sounded like the basement tapes of a raving, tripping, twisted and unstable hippie wildchild/wizard/poet, and his two follow-ups Rejoicing in the Hands and Nino Rojo felt like the channeling of his weird energy in one specific direction, that of intimate, ancient, down-home, front-porch folk songs, his fourth album and major label debut Cripple Crow represents, to some extent, the mainstreaming of Devendra Banhart. That is, it's his introduction to a larger audience, and as such a consolidation of his disparate personalities and energies under the potential banner of 'rock star'. Don't get disappointed, for this is a fantastic development, as his music is ultimately as fresh, wicked, and eclectic as ever, or possibly even more so. Cripple Crow does sound much more "professional", and at its very start Banhart does sound more controlled, as he delivers a few gorgeous, slow and gentle, folk songs. Standing alone they sound at first like a more sedate Banhart, even though when you listen closely you hear the exact opposite of rest and resignation, on the opening thought-prayer "Now That I Know," the sparse and riveting Spanish-language folk ballad "Santa Maria Da Feira," and, then, the bittersweet (in the context of today, especially) yet forthright and crystal-clear anti-war declaration "Heard Somebody Say". As the album continues, those slow and meditative songs (ablaze with feeling as they are) give way to an exciting and eclectic parade of blues stompers, community sing-alongs, erratic nature poems, shy backwoods love songs, daydreamers' rants, inside-out stepchildren of Phil Ochs, guitar-beating litanies, perverse children's folk songs, and surreal riverboat nightclub ditties. Oh, and there's a few more songs in Spanish, plus a truly bizarre, creepy '50s-style slow dance about wanting to marry little boys. A commune of musician friends join in the fun, giving the album the feeling of a family reunion or backyard party, even as it's all centered around this one bizarre yet gifted musician, who has a road in front of him which seems as open and free as they come. - dave heaton

Liz Durrett, Husk (Warm)

Liz Durrett has a beautiful singing voice, and in the context of her debut album Husk it's downright haunting. The album has a measured pace; it moves along slowly, not in a hurry to get anywhere. That, and the overall hazy country vibe of the music (as played by Durrett, her uncle Vic Chesnutt, his wife Tina, and ex-Dashboard Savior Rob Veal) give Husk the mood of an excursion into the dark shade of haunted woods. The lyrics are hard to grasp onto, and when you get a handle on them often feel either like soul-searching, ghost tales, or a combination of the two (lines like "God set me ablaze" could fit in either). The song titles are all one-word clues ("Vine", "Slip", "Net", etc.), except for "You There", which is appropriate, as that closing song feels more direct, like a step out of the fog into what could be a love song. It all has the feeling of a cloak, of a haze, of one evocative mood that envelops you. And in that way it's completely absorbing and enjoyable. The songwriting, which occasionally carries traces of Chestnutt's influence ("Lull" reminds me of several of his songs, and "BC" often leads me to humming his "Miss Mary"), is forceful enough that the songs stick out even within the fairly uniform overall sound. It's an eerie album, and a beatiful one, one which continually beckons you in to listen more closely. And here's the kicker: all of these songs were recorded between 1993 and 1996, when Durrett was in high school and college. While the lyrics might occasionally betray her age, you'd never guess that this music was recorded that long ago, as it sounds as alive as anything else you'll find in the "new release" section of your local record store. - dave heaton

Tiger Saw, Sing! (Kimchee Records)

Ready for a good old-fashioned sing-along? Tiger Saw's new album opens with a splendid one called "Sing!" The exclamation point is appropriate emphasis, the song's a litany of declarations about singing, each line reflecting the genuine power of music in a different way ("Sing, I'll sing everything that I feel", "Sing, I'll sing where speaking fails", etc.). For the song, and the album, Tiger Saw singer/guitarist Dylan Metrano is joined by a gang of 14 friends. Throughout the album, these musicians sing together (sometimes as a choir, sometimes as a duet, sometimes just in the background) and play together, giving Sing! a nice communal feeling, accentuating its human-ness, the way the songs address real people and real lives. Yet despite the number of people involved, the sound of the album isn't big and bombastic, it's the opposite: small and humble and friendly. The songs fit that feeling, too. They're melodic and textured but not ostentatious. Upright bass, piano, guitars, and other instruments provide a lovely setting, somehow rustic in feeling, and pretty in a way that can lead you to imagine the musicians playing the songs late at night on a beautiful beach somewhere, or off in the woods. It's gentle music, in a way, but also filled with celebration and, above all, heart - it's the kind of music where you feel that the musicians are creating it out of love, not to "hit the big time" or whatever. Metrano's songs are filled with emotional truth, and he sings them with the same. And when everyone sings together, like on the chorus of the remarkable "Postcards & Letters", that feeling is accentuated with each voice that's added. The words of that chorus, by the way, are oh so appropriate, and liable to run chills up your spine when heard in the context of a bunch of beautiful singers singing their hearts out: "Home is never really that far / keep a song with you, wherever you are." - dave heaton

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