I wonder if, at the time, kids buying Led Zeppelin and Beatles albums ever thought this stuff will be around and still culturally salient 40 years down the line. Surely not. and yes, overblown as both groups reputations are and how they overshadow more adventurous and clever acts of similar vintage (Kinks and Soft Machine for example), there is an inarguable timelessness about them. So who do we have now that will stand an even similar test of time? I realized at an early age, when Duran Duran was the biggest fucking band in the world, that we as a youth culture didn't have anything to compete. Sure "Union of the Snake" is a catchy tune, but its no "Kashmir."
And even now. I thought Oasis had it in them to be humongous, even if they were operating out of the Zeppelin cliff notes, but they seemed to have petered out. Jack White may think he's the new Jim Morrison, but he might be the next Jim Varney if he doesn't drop the Johnny Depp outfit trip. Look at what became of Lenny Kravitz, if you can bear to. Blind Melon had a chance, since to me, their music sounds more "classic" than Nirvana does now, but both those enigmatic frontmen bought into the Korny Death Kultur and let their full balloons fart around the room in circles until they felt flat and limp. Thanks a lot, fellas. If Lou Reed could survive himself and continue to be a Rock N Roll Jedi Master, anyone can, ok?
And while I think there is tons of fantastic music being made right now, the only artist I see as possibly having legs is Devendra Banhart. I, like every music dork, have a giant hard-on for his lilting voice, amalgam of styles and Millionaire Rainbow Gathering aura, but I think there is more under the surface. I don't just wanna love him, I wanna be him. His first album appeared as a masterpiece of WTF outsider brilliance, and Rejoice in the Hands showed that with the right production, his dandelion-through-the-sidewalk-cracks was a dazzling lotus beguiling all who met its gaze. Nino Rojo, which was the nocturnal sister record to Rejoice, while still glistening, felt more like expanded bonus tracks rather than an album unto itself. I had worries that his candle had burned out, had become a victim of his unwavering adoration. Merle Haggard said we loved Elvis to death, and I was afraid we had done so to this delicate soul in an much more modern (web-accelerated, extensively documented, carefully marketed, and demographically contained) way.
Luckily, Cripple Crow demonstrates there is room in the pantheon for our, or at least my, young hero. "Now that I Know" opens the record with his trademark guitar twinkle augmented string backup and soft croon embracing you as he descends to Earth on a golden cloud. He embraces his native Spanish in delicious numbers like "Santa Maria Da Fiera" and "Luna De Margarita" and his command of beachcomber exotica is unparalleled, make these sound perfectly authentic, as if he was some lovechild of the girl from Impanema.
The thing that really sets this apart from his previous work is the brace of protest songs peppering this stew. For me, Devendra's butterfly lyrics were another instrument, often funny, but not exactly the most thought provoking business, which is not a dig, mind you. I think Bob Dylan vastly improved himself when he stopped making sense on Highway 61 Revisited. But there is a plaintive honesty in "Heard Somebody Say" that rings true with the frustrations I have with the calloused team players running the show
I heard somebody say the war ended today
But everyone knows its going still
and I really wish undeniably funky t-Rex blast "I Feel Like a Child" would become this teeming snot-nose faction's "Blowin' in the Wind" but I think the fellas up in marketing have Green Day scheduled for that role. But it is the kick ass centerpiece for this record, with the one line "and will someone will please explain the war" tossed offhandedly in this nature-boy love-me-mama shimmy making it the best adolescent anthem in ages. I defy you not to shake your shit in some fashion when it comes on.
There are some surprisingly mature songs on this like "Some People Ride the Wave" and the hookah hued "Lazy Butterfly", but the obvious theme of this record is embrace your wonder. and not in a be-a-perpetual teenager way that is the mode of the day, but in a Starchild kinda way. The Fahey harpisms of "Dragonflies" and particularly the perfect harmonies of the sunshine sway of "Hey Mama Wolf" make you wanna spin around in an endless pasture until you explode in a radiant orb of joy visible to all sentient creatures everywhere. OK maybe that's a bit much, but its the embrace of the excesses of wonderment that make this such a delight. I don't have a lot of critical distance when it comes to his material, since I am clearly under his spell, but its a good spell to be under. Whether this album will be an classic who can say. I don't see it being a Led Zeppelin IV, but perhaps it can be an Incredible String Band's The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (an acknowledged root of Banhart's cosmic folk) whose unearthing will turn on a new generation of kids tired of whatever vapid revisionist shit that is being used to sell cruises and whatever the new iPod is then. It's a beautiful glowing living thing, full of vines and flowers and fuzzy caterpillars, the kind of which we don't see very often.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
March sees a greatly expanded reissue of Elliott Smith's most critically acclaimed album Either/Or