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Hippy hippy shake

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Listening to Cripple Creek, the fourth album from Texas-born, Venezuela-raised folkie Devendra Banhart, you could be forgiven for thinking 2005 is the new 1969.

There are bongos, sitars, flutes, zithers and acoustic guitars, and the album cover is one of those collage jobs, like The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's sleeve, full of barefoot earth mothers and bearded gents with bindhis.

It would be easy to scoff, and I do, but there's more to this guy than Charles Manson facial hair, poor personal hygiene and a love affair with the late 60s. As anyone who has enjoyed Banhart's last three pleasingly primitive albums will tell you, his voice shivering and rippling.

He is also unusually ambitious for a hippy. Recorded with a coterie of leading lights from America's "freak folk" scene, this album's 22 tracks include elements of Cuban and Indian music, flamenco, country, blues, English madrigals, LSD-soaked flower-child lullabies, Stax soul grooves, rootsy rock'n'roll, early protest songs and dark Appalachian death chants, and five songs sung in Banhart's first language, Spanish.

Like a car-load of models gatecrashing a Green Party pot-luck dinner, beauty sits shoulder-to-shoulder with flakiness, and it sounds wonderfully woozy, too, like everyone's been on the parsnip sherry.

Banhart is woefully undisciplined, in dire need of an editor to weed out his less successful experiments, but the strongest tracks here have the kind of playful, child-like naivety of Donovan and Marc Bolan's best work. Some songs are as nutty as Banhart's morning muesli; others are fragile and dreamy, so light they almost float away.

Banhart's tremulous quaver also graces Noah's Ark by American duo CocoRosie, as does the transcendent warble of Antony Hegarty from Antony and The Johnsons and a whole host of other unusual sounds music boxes, train whistles, cow moos, sawing wood, mewling cats.

Half-Cherokee sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady are CocoRosie. One sounds like Billie Holiday, the other like Bjork, and both of them descend often into cracked whispers, or break into high operatic squawks.


Noah's Ark is the deeper, darker follow-up to last year's first album La Maison de Mon Reve, and it's a peculiar mix of backwoods blues, amateur opera, 1940s jazz and avant garde folk. There are outbreaks of electronic beat-trickery, but mostly this eerie sound is built around a plucked harp, those unpredictable voices and an upright piano that sounds like it has been recorded in an old school hall.

Superficially the lyrics concern drugs and lust, buffalos and bambis, danger and deliverance, but at the heart of every song there's a yearning for the flood implied by the title to wash away the world's sins. Deep pain can be heard, but also a hedonistic determination to enjoy any pleasure available. Deeply affecting tracks include "Armageddon", a pre-Apocalypse campfire sing-along, and jailhouse torch song "Beautiful Boys", celebrating "those beautiful boys, pimps and queens and criminal queers, oh those beautiful boys, tattoos of ships and tattoos of tears". It's perfect to play when the rain has been falling for weeks and animals have started to gather in pairs. And take heart. After the flood, say the sisters, "rainbows will weep colour all over the streets."



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