Cripple Crow

By now it’s a familiar story: A street musician makes a series of low-fi cassette recordings, which somehow find their way to a label owner and on to a sea of adulation. Cliché or no, this happened to Houston-born DEVENDRA BANHART , who, three years down the road from his debut, has made his most satisfying album to date. On CRIPPLE CROW (XL) he leaves the minimalist acoustics of his first three recordings largely behind, favoring actual band arrangements. Thematically, it’s a grab bag, 22 memorable—and often inscrutable—songs, a handful of them in Spanish (Banhart was raised inVenezuela). He sings with a waver that somehow conveys both the menace of Roky Erickson and the tenderness of Nick Drake, while his music hints of everything from psychedelia to ragtime, all held together by the sheer force of his 24-year-old imagination.

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