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RECORDED

Devendra Banhart “Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon”

by James Hadfield

Much like 2005′s “Cripple Crow,” Devendra Banhart’s latest album is probably best tackled in small doses. With 16 tracks spread over 70 minutes, it’s an unfocused affair that finds the shaggy troubadour moving ever further from the acoustic folk of his breakout record, “Rejoicing in the Hands.”

Though the naive man-child lyrics and tremulous quiver of a voice haven’t changed, the musical settings have. Aided by a full backing band and guests including actor Gael García Bernal and The Strokes’ Nick Valensi, Banhart flirts with everything from soul (“Saved”) to doo-wop (“Shabop Shalom”), tropicalia (“Sambal Vexillographica”) to reggae (“The Other Woman”) and finding time for the odd folk number in between.

The 8-minute “Seahorse” is the most ambitious, a three-part epic that moves from ballad to Stranglers-esque waltz before locking into a lumbering blues-rock groove. All well and good, but while most listeners will find something they enjoy here, it’s hard to imagine many groking the whole thing. As fun as these genre exercises are, too, they seldom rise above the level of pastiche. Only on the album’s closing numbers — the tender “Freely,” “I Remember” and “My Dearest Friend” — does Banhart stop dazzling you with his versatility and actually make you care.