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Album review: Devendra Banhart's 'What Will We Be'

October 26, 2009 |  7:11 pm
Banhart_240 When Devendra Banhart released "Oh Me Oh My . . ." in 2002 on Young God Records, critics immediately crowned him the prince of the burgeoning New Weird America scene. It didn't quite fit the Texan-cum-Venezuelan who's also spent time in Topanga Canyon: Banhart's not a ruler, he's the people's troubadour.

On his latest recording "What Will We Be," 28-year-old Banhart steps back from his early, raw intensity with a creased collection of drifting tunes freshly produced by A Band of Bees' Paul Butler.

He filches from a variety of genres -- Brazilian Tropicalia, glam rock, lounge jazz, Zeppelin-like psychedelia -- but it never sounds awkward. He loosens the stitches on each to fashion his own unique costume. "Take me as I am or might become," Banhart sings in a slurry whisper on "Goin' Back," one of the most exquisitely laid-back songs he's ever recorded, with its finger-picked chords and beach-sandy drums.

Playing with the same ensemble that backed him on 2007's "Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon," Banhart's first outing on a major label is not a concession to the big guns, but rather an attuned jog through their artistic obstacle course.

-- Margaret Wappler

Devendra Banhart
"What Will We Be"
Warner Bros.
Three and a half stars (Out of four)