The first and last time that I listened to Devendra Banhart was on his Oh Me Oh My... debut album. Although I liked certain songs on the release, too me it seemed like he was being willfully difficult in many places, and in addition I found it somewhat difficult to make it past the mega lo-fi production. After a couple more albums, and after reading lots of praise for his newer work, I finally decided that it was about time for me to give him another chance. After hearing Cripple Crow, I'm glad that I did.
After listening to this release, I filled myself in a bit on the ones that I missed, and I still think that it's safe to say that his newest release is easily his most accessible to date. Song after song showcases his strong songwriting abilities and his warm croon. Those looking for some of his earlier freakouts may find themselves a little disappointed, but for everyone else there's an embarrassment of great stuff on the disc. With twenty two songs that run over seventy-five minutes (twenty three and going on ninety minutes if you count the bonus MP3), one of the only major mis-steps of the album might be the rambling running length.
The album opens with the lovely acoustic guitar/strings and vocals of "Now That I Know" then finds Banhart singing in Spanish on the playful "Santa Maria Da Feira" (in which he channels and produces a weird sort of Tropicalia). The variety continues with the 70s influenced psych rock "Long Haired Child" and "Some People Ride The Wave" shuffles along with a sort of Bayou Jazz feel that works nicely with the lyrics. In other places, the communal feel of the album artwork really shows through with lush instrumentation and added vocals. "Hey Mama Wolf," the album-titled "Cripple Crow" and others have an almost tribal singalong feel that at the same time throwback to an earlier era in recording.
Although Banhart keeps his more wild vocal histrionics in check, his weird sense of humor and surprising musical twists are still in place. "Little Boys" starts out like some sort organ-infused rock ballad before switching gears halfway through and melding creepy vocals with surf rock instrumentation while "The Beatles" finds Banhart ignoring half the members of the namesake band with a fairly standard rock opening before breaking into Spanish and completely breaking the track apart. As mentioned above, the album gets a bit saggy towards the end, as the running length keeps scrolling, but it's fairly easy to forgive considering the quality of the majority of the songs. Really, the biggest improvement from his first album to this is that he's realized that a little subtlety is one of the best ways to be intriguing. All of the interesting parts of his music are still here, he's just written an album that plays up his strengths in more measured ways. The result is easily his best release to date.