Devendra Banhart NiÃ±o RojoBanhartÂ’s oftcited childlike-wonder vibe Devendra BanhartÂ’s florid flights of fancy tend to engage or enrage, leaving little room for middle ground. But even haters would agree that his second album, AprilÂ’s Rejoicing in the Hands, was a quantum leap beyond his 2002 debut, Oh Me Oh MyÂ… Like a kid emerging from puberty, the itinerant bardÂ’s odd voice had evolved into a Bolanesque trill; his Nick Drake-ish guitar playing had become even more intricate; and his sparsely adorned songs took on a greater tunefulness and coherence without compromising his singular vision. NiÃ±o Rojo compiles the remaining 16 songs recorded during the Rejoicing sessions, but Banhart has emphasized that it isnÂ’t a collection of outtakes, but rather a companion album, like what Amnesiac is to Kid A. While NiÃ±o doesnÂ’t quite reach the bar set by its predecessor, the albumÂ’s effect is like discovering more rooms in a house you thought you knew. The album opens with Â“Wake Up Little Sparrow,Â” a song by esteemed kidsÂ’ folksinger Ella Jenkins, and the other tracks frequently inhabit similarly whimsical territory. BanhartÂ’s oftcited childlike-wonder vibe is largely due to the way his melodies playfully hopscotch around the scale, and the intentional absurdity of some of his lyrics: Â“Hey, there little sexy pig, you made it with a man / And now youÂ’ve got a little kid with hooves instead of handsÂ” (Â“Little Yellow SpiderÂ”).
While some consider that vibe to be shtick, it hardly matters: Calculated or not, BanhartÂ’s songs capture the unaffected charm of a child who doesnÂ’t yet comprehend the concepts of cool or composure.