- Posted by AGM -
It was with little fanfare this past fall that singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart released his seventh album, What Will We Be. Not surprisingly, the public shrugged at the latest release from a guy better known for his early 70’s Morrison beard and a tabloid tryst with Natalie Portman than his music.
By many accounts, Banhart has been more shtick than star – a five tool player who can’t seem to crack a starting lineup. But something funny happened on the way to disappointment…a beardless Banhart dropped the album we’ve been waiting for.
Calling Devendra Banhart interesting is like calling Paul McCartney merely well-to-do. Banhart’s bio reads like a Dos Equis commercial: Born in Houston, raised in Caracas, and educated at the San Francisco Art Institute while living in the Castro neighborhood of Harvey Milk fame. He opened for indie rock bands in Paris, wrote songs in Morocco and sold demos outside of shows in LA, before being “discovered” prior to his 21st birthday. His first name comes from Indra, the Hindu God of Rain and Thunder; his middle name, Obi, pays homage to a certain saber wielding Jedi. (No wonder Portman was impressed).
Yet while all these fun facts make for a terrific VH1 Pop-Up video, Barnhart had never written a song worthy of one (not necessarily a criticism by the way). While I always found his music to be intriguing, I never found it to be particularly fun. His previous album, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, showed flashes of brilliance (check out “Lover,” or the hilarious “Shabop Shalom”) amidst stretches of mediocrity.
That trend changes on What Will We Be, which plays as an album, rather than just a compilation of singles (minus a few snoozers at the end). His latest effort is a road trip of versatility, channeling Paul Simon (“Goin’ Back”), Jack Johnson (“Baby”), The Doors (“Rats”), Beach Boys (“Maria Lionza”) and Peter Tosh (“Foolin’”), and featuring a schizophrenic folk/singers & standards mash up (“Chin Chin & Muck Muck”) that personifies Banhart’s originality.
WWWB is worth diving into for the right reasons this time. Finally, Banhart has focused his eccentricity into songs that can be appreciated by more than festival heads, new age hippies and tabloid hounds hunting the next indie rock stud.
In short, it is the album that has finally made Devendra Banhart as entertaining to listen to as he is to read about. And it is one of my favorites of 2009.