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DEVENDRA BANHART: Rejoicing In The Hands

CMJ | by Mikael Wood

Banhart’s terrific follow-up

Art-school refugee Devendra Banhart’s 2002 debut, the 22-word title of which begins Oh Me Oh My... and challenges Fiona Apple for flaccid surrealist whimsy, was the outsider-art album every insider loved that year: a loose collection of poorly recorded songs and song fragments sung by a high-voiced balladeer and strung together into semi-coherence by former Swans mastermind Michael Gira. Rejoicing In The Hands, Banhart’s terrific follow-up, is plenty weird compared to straight-laced indie folksters like Damien Jurado and the late Elliott Smith, but its delicately picked acoustic guitars and warm, casual, actually-cut-in-a- studio production make for a far less challenging listen than Oh Me. At points, Banhart’s quavering vocals—imagine Billie Holiday if she did her undergrad at Brown—even manage to evoke a sense of disturbed calm familiar to Cat Power fans. And the occasional splash of instrumental color from members of Gira’s Young God stable lends his warbling valuable emo-tional depth. Of course, parsing Banhart’s lyrics remains akin to chasing a rainbow-colored unicorn down a red-curtained rab-bit hole—“Each strand of her hair is really insect eyes,” he sings over zither-like plinks, “and each hole in her tongue is always occupied by the milk of the sun”— but his Neverland has become a bewitch-ing vacation spot.
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