Devendra Banhart, NiÃ±o Rojo...he presents a new wrinkle to his persona and, more importantly, in his songs The press may be all abuzz about Devendra Banhart right now, variously depicting him as a cuckoo musical outsider or overly active alt-folkie - neither of which falls close to a fair assessment of his considerably attractive, if quirky, musical talents. Still, despite the ham-handedness of it all, the buzz is accurate in this respect - there is something very exciting about Nino Rojo, Banhart's latest full length.
Much of the album focuses on Banhart in intimate settings; he doesn't need much more than an acoustic guitar and his own quavering but fluid singing to fill ballads like "Wake Up, Little Sparrow" and "We All Know" with passion and poignancy aplenty. These reduced means are still diverting; the guitar work on the record is particularly varied and interesting. Cascading arpeggios echo across the soundscape of "Little Yellow Spider," an economical, loping groove frames "A Ribbon," while layered guitar melodies are complemented by a corresponding (and quite lovely) layer of vocal parts on "At the Hop." "Be Kind" is a psych-folk sing along, propelled by minimal percussion and an Eastern-contoured melodic framework.
While much on Nino Rojo is quite finely crafted, there is a rough hewn quality to some songs, like "An Island," that leaves the record feeling like a somewhat enigmatic, casual document - quite deliberately so, I suspect. Moreover, while many will be playing "spot the influences" with Banhart for a long time to come, arguing over whether he's descended from Bob Dylan or Nick Drake, I prefer to marvel at the ingenuity and individuality of his approach, despite all of those lofty progenitors to contend with in the post/alt/psych folk arena. To Banhart's credit, just when you think you've got him pegged, he presents a new wrinkle to his persona and, more importantly, in his songs; now that's something worth being abuzz about!