Rejoicing in the Hands

SF Bay Guardian | by Jimmy Draper

The embodiment of authentic expression

From NPR to Playboy, so much hype surrounds the second coming of Devendra Banhart that he's practically cramping Jesus Christ's style. And it's a fitting response: not only can the neo-folkie bear a striking resemblance to J.C., but he's been touted as some sort of musical messiah since the release of 2002's homespun Oh Me Oh My ... After that no-fi debut – more field recording than proper album, really – Banhart found himself praised as nothing less than the embodiment of authentic expression, fingerpicking old-timey, acoustic songs rooted in blues, British folk, and even gospel hymns. However, it's his voice – a marvelously emotive, billy goat tremble that's equal parts M. Ward and M. Bolan – that ultimately inspired much of the near-religious fanaticism in his listeners.

Now, with his second arresting album in a row, Banhart looks to expand his following. Rejoicing in the Hands ... finds the 22-year-old upping the production and fleshing out his previous song fragments for 16 tracks that are downright radio-ready compared to its predecessor's answering machine recordings. Still, the focus remains Banhart warbling his way through weird, alluring voodoo verses about beards, moons, empresses, and insects; one song even finds him taking his teeth out for a night on the town. But despite a few moments when his surrealistic poetry devolves into the entirely inexplicable – as with "Poughkeepsie"'s Elvis references – Hands ... proves once again that Banhart's timeless, transcendent songs are, as he sings on "A Sight to Behold," "like finding home in an old folks' song that you've never, ever heard."