Freak folk, freak folk, freak folk... Please, let it be the last time either of those two words are used as short cuts to define or contain a magnificently complicated and almost uncategorizable talent like Devendra Banhart. The only thing to say about his new album "Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Mountain" is that it's a challenging affair that cavorts from samba to salsa to art rock to Andean rock, all the while stitched together by some vintage 60s thread. Although he lived in Venezuela for some years and he often sings in Spanish, he's never been considered part of the Latin alternative movement. It seems it's time to reconsider. Banhart's new effort may very well rank among the best Latin alternative albums of the year based simply on four tracks: "Cristobal", "Samba Vexillographica", "Rosa" and "Carmensita." And considering that this year, pioneers and genre monoliths like Manu Chao and Café Tacvba both released outstanding albums, Señor Banhart is good company.
Of course, if the Brazilian and Latin American-influenced stuff doesn't grab you, the album's gem, the harder-hitting, Morrison-esque "Tonada Yanomaminista," should be in contention for one of the best singles of the year--definitely THE best single that you will never learn how to pronounce.
Read A.D. Amarosi's excellent cover story on Banhart here.