Devendra Banhart, Nino Rojo

Erasing Clouds | by Dave Heaton

...songs that are overwhelming in how simply they encapsulate feelings of love and hope...

Earlier this year, Devendra Banhart's Rejoicing in the Hands found him stripping his surrealist-folk vision down to its essence and getting in touch with musical ghosts of the past, in a spare, out-in-the-country setting. Its companion album Nino Rojo comes from the same recording sessions, and has the same basic vibe about it. The feeling I get from Nino Rojo is that of pushing further into this style and sound, like 'now you know what I can do, so let's really get into it.'

Beginning with the Ella Jenkins cover "Wake Up, Little Sparrow," Banhart takes us right back to the front porch and into the farthest-out regions of his mind. Nino Rojo is as successful as his other albums at using both traditional musical forms and imaginative deviations from them to project a wide-eyed fascination with the world around us and worlds beyond. Banhart's shiver-inducing voice wraps itself around nursery rhymes that are both emotionally unreserved and increasingly bizarre.

Nino Rojo particularly excels at capturing the childlike nature of his music, and combining it with a psychedelic, dreamer's view of the world; listen to the litany of animals on "Little Yellow Spider" for one example of how his music resembles the twisted offspring of children's songs. There's places where the instrumentation, too, lifts the songs into bright places that recall the simple joys of classic Disney songs, like the horn bursts in "We All Know" or the whistle-and-piano intro to "Noah." But Banhart's songs are grittier and more relevant to today's world than you might expect from flights of fancy - near the album's end there's a series of songs that are overwhelming in how simply they encapsulate feelings of love and hope within fantastical but extremely personal lyrics and melodies. Nino Rojo's closing thought is "shining love..." and it's delivered not as empty sentiment but as a genuinely sweet, ecstatic expression of love.