Rejoicing in the Hands | by Dave Heaton

Raw talent producing music that will completely absorb you

Devendra Banhart's debut album Oh Me Oh My... was a madcap romp through the young Texan musician's psyche - his unusual voice crooned and twisted its way through a surreal midnight blend of rock, folk and blues. His second album takes that all-over-the-place sound and streamlines it, coming up with a sound that's more in touch with the most stripped-down acoustic blues and folk records yet still retains Banhart's unique musical personality and perspective on the world.

Though in its own way it's just as strange as the first album, Rejoicing... feels at times more like a love letter to humanity and the power of music than a snapshot of an acid trip. It's a tone the album takes on in part because of the stirring first song, "This Is the Way," a voice-and-guitar number that feels like a manifesto of artistic simplicity and ends with the words "We've known we have a choice/we chose rejoice." And as weird and dark and mysterious as the album is, there's a continuing theme of celebration, of praising the joy of corporeal things or the wonders of the imagination.

Banhart has a way of turning non-sequitors and random images into vague feelings that resonate through you in truly unique ways...and the minimalist approach he takes on Rejoicing... really accentuates that somehow. He treads a line between singing straightforward, literal sentiments and being more abstract and bizarre ("The daughter of a man was a mammal/she bore the mark of fire and of flame/though they're both the same"), and in both cases his songs are just as moving and interesting. And on plenty of songs he's being both straightforward and abstract at the same time, which is probably where the real charm of his music lies, in the way he can sing an eerie line like "each strand of her hair is really insect eyes/and each hole in her tongue is always occupied by the milk of the sun" and make you feel like you're listening to a perfect love ballad. His approach to melody falls into a similar place, as his melodies are both straight-ahead catchy and consistently off-kilter, a combination of nursery rhymes, religious chants and sheer stream-of-consciousness release with traditional folk tunes.

Nature, history, automatic writing, poetry, the history of American music, folk tales, love, sex, death...all of it is compacted into each song on Rejoicing In the Hands, but I can't even begin to explain to you how. Devendra Banhart is collecting hype and praise with each release, but here's one of those rare times when it's deserved, when the attention is coming from raw talent producing music that will completely absorb you.