Rejoicing in the Hands
Highly recommendedSince the release of his evocative debut album Oh Me Oh My..., Devendra Banhart has deservedly catapulted to the status of an indie-rock icon. The critical acclaim for Banhart's work is based on the merits of his spectacular songwriting and uncanny ability to channel an incredible spectrum of emotional resonance. However, much of that success is also due to the hard work and dedication of Young God's bossman Michael Gira. The former Swan and current Angel Of Light has taken Banhart under his wing as his apprentice and has boldly asserted (and nutured) Banhart's brilliance, majesty, and genius. His hard work has certainly paid off as almost every media outlet has sung Banhart's praises; but even so it was quite bizarre to hear Banhart's wavering croon on NPR's Morning Edition many moons ago. Rejoicing In The Hands is Banhart's second proper album, following the short Black Babies UK EP which delved further into his piles of early 4-track recordings. For this new album, Gira took Banhart into a studio (which was located in an appropriately antique Southern home on the Georgia / Alabama border) and provided him with plenty of resources to flesh out his songs. In many ways, Rejoicing In The Hands follows the same strategy that Sub Pop employed for Iron & Wine's second album Our Endless Numbered Days: take one fantastic songwriter who made a great album of 4-track recordings, put him in the studio with some sympathetic musicians, and watch the magic happen. Thus, Rejoicing In The Hands has considerably more polish than its predecessor; and perhaps not surprisingly, the songs themselves are less dangerous, rabid, and self-consumed. Yet, the taming of Mr. Banhart is a relative process, as his work still invokes a mysticism of the unconscious through his complex metanyms and obtuse wordplay. His voice -- an eccentric hybrid of Marc Bolan, Karen Dalton, and Vashti Bunyan (who sings a duet alongside Banhart on this record!) -- continues to waver through stream of consciousness lyrics about his teeth, his beard, geographic love affairs, insects, Elvis, and other more likely subject matters like sex and death. Musically, these are delicate folk arrangements centered around his elliptical finger picking which is occasionally accompanied by some of Gira's fellow musicians from Angels of Light. All in all, Rejoicing In The Hands is a rousing success that will surely make Banhart the folk medium for his generation. Highly recommended.