Devendra Banhart | by Thomas Bartlett

"Body Breaks," Devendra Banhart, from "Rejoicing in the Hands"

Devendra Banhart is only 21, and "Rejoicing in the Hands" is only his second album, but he's already a legend, and those who have been exposed to his music tend to speak of him with reverence and awe. It probably helps that he looks uncannily like the conventional image of Jesus, but there's more to it than that. He has most often been compared to Syd Barrett, but I think this is less due to the way his music sounds than to the otherworldly, brilliant but unstable aura he projects as a performer. Banhart's music, most of it solo guitar and voice, isn't musically groundbreaking, but emotionally, it's unfamiliar terrain. He has a thing for obscure British folk musicians like Linda Perhacs and Vashti Banyan (who sings on one track on this album), and his angular guitar style recalls the great Burt Jansch. But vocally, he's his own man. Before I ever heard his music, I'd heard descriptions of his warbly voice and trembling vibrato and was reasonably sure I wouldn't like it -- few things turn me off as quickly as excessive vibrato. But the moment I heard him sing, I was sold. The vibrato is pretty intense, but it's also entirely natural and unforced, and perfectly controlled. Like Jeff Buckley, Banhart, without a trace of self-consciousness, does things with his voice that would sound absurd attempted by anyone else, and he makes them work by virtue of unshakable artistic conviction. "Rejoicing in the Hands" won't be released until late April, and as a teaser, Young God Records has put up "Body Breaks" on its Web site. It's one of the better songs on the album, but the magic of Banhart's music works cumulatively, and the whole thing is well worth owning.