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DEVENDRA BANHART, "REJOICING IN THE HANDS"

Brainwashed.com | by Jonathan Dean

A marvelous showcase for Banhart's songs and performances

He possesses the unkempt street-hustler looks of Vincent Gallo, the psychotic vulnerability of Syd Barrett, the spooked lonesomeness of Skip Spence, the instrumental dexterity of Robin Williamson, the naïve sincerity of Tiny Tim, and a voice that sounds like a cross between Marc Bolan's early T. Rex warble and the evocative wail of Karen Dalton. After his superlative debut Oh Me Oh My..., many were quick to heap praise on Devendra Banhart, hailing the 23-year old singer-songwriter as a peerlessly original voice. With such obvious musical precedents for Banhart's intimate, acoustic songcraft, this adulation seems a bit overstated. Despite what has been said, Devendra Banhart hasn't reinvented the wheel. He has, however, used his considerable lyrical and melodic gifts to create a handful of idiosyncratic recordings that speak volumes for his songwriting talent. Oh Me Oh My... was immediately distinctive not only because of Banhart's quavering vocal delivery and incredible fingerstyle, but also because of its willfully low-budget recording aesthetic; the songs were self-recorded live-to-tape on sub-par cassette recorders, Dictaphones and answering machines. Two years on, Devendra Banhart has achieved a modicum of success, championed by Michael Gira, with a home on his Young God label. Although Banhart and Gira could easily have opted for an artificially studied recreation of the low-fidelity distortion and tape hiss of the demo reel, the right choice was made on Rejoicing in the Hands to present the performer in a simple, clean studio recording. The tracks on this new album sound every bit as live and spontaneous as the Oh Me Oh My... sessions, but the technical advantages of the studio recording highlight every velvety pluck of the guitar strings and every nuanced vibration of Devendra's labored vocals. Because these songs are refreshingly free of extraneous debris and contain only minimal, unobtrusive backing, Rejoicing is a marvelous showcase for Banhart's songs and performances. Each track is a miniature masterpiece; few exceed the three-minute mark, but each has the immediacy and resonance of déjà vu, as if Banhart was pulling from some vast collective-subconscious archive of archetypal sing-along folk melodies. His lyrical themes are fascinating as always, strange re-combinations of dime-store mysticism, humorous reverie and the odd fanciful passage of surreal wordplay. On the title track, he is joined by the legendary Vashti Bunyan, the elusive songstress who recorded the acid-folk classic Just Another Diamond Day and promptly disappeared from view. Their lovely duet is an affectionate homage to the placid simplicity of the 60's British folk revival.
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