DEVENDRA BANHART, Rejoicing in the Hands

Creative Loafing | by Chad Radford

The "new weird America"

Friends and foes alike fling Tiny Tim comparisons at Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, contemporaries under the "new weird America" veil of modern psychedelic folk. Whether the reference is pot shot or a sincere compliment is a matter best left to the beholder. All three summon a similar sense of un-self-conscious splendor, but the resemblance ends there. Banhart and Newsom transcend novelty's trappings -- both utilize the tools and traits of an era when music was a vital means of expression, not just an accessory.

Banhart (touring in June) channels primitive, patchwork British and American folk and blues through crystalline production qualities, a definitive departure from his 2002 debut Oh Me Oh My ... 's four-track fuzz. His nonsensical, non sequitur crooning serves as textural counterpart to sparsely strummed melodies, creating a warm and world-weary environment. Songs spill alluringly into the next -- making an unexpected musical hiccup in "Todo Los Dolores" all the more jarring.

Throughout The Milk-Eyed Mender , Newsom's elfin voice is guided by fantasy-filled writing. Her instruments are piano and harp, alternated with subtle simplicity. Newsom weaves a tapestry of effortless poetic verses that unfold as though lifted from some Arthurian dreamscape where kings, pixies and dragons vie for their own corner. But within every vocal inflection and melody lingers some sinister, unsettling double meaning. By comparison, Newsom's voice is quite grating, especially in the multilayered "Peach, Plum, Pear." But therein lies the appeal. Both records are intimate visions that rely on brave and bare-bones articulation.