Rejoicing in the Hands
Washington City Paper | by Shauna Miller
Banhartâ€™s distinctive timbre to emerge as the central instrumentDevendra Banhartâ€™s debut, 2002â€™s Oh Me Oh My..., introduced the singer as a precious, off-center warbler with a gift for haunting, Brothers Grimmâ€“esque lyrics and a crush on Marc Bolan the size of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Swansâ€™ Michael Gira scooped the then-21-year-old foundling, fed and clothed him, and released an unretouched, often distractingly lo-fi collection of his songs to glowing reviews, most of which made much of the fact that Banhart was born to a family of traveling hippie mystics from Texas. Rejoicing in the Hands, Banhartâ€™s second full-length, offers the scruffy nÃ¼-Donovan a chance to put a cleaner face forward. This time around, there is actual production, courtesy of Gira, with Banhartâ€™s tinny voice augmented by strings, slide guitar, and even the occasional soul singer. These additions are applied with restraint, though, and donâ€™t turn out to be as devastating as you might think. â€œThis Beard Is for SiobhÃ¡n,â€ for example, manages to work a slow build of bass, drums, piano, and kazoo into the folk equivalent of an Idiot-era Iggy rocker. Whereas Oh Me Oh My... used unrelenting tape hiss practically as orchestration, Rejoicing captures every raspy breath and spit smack, allowing Banhartâ€™s distinctive timbre to emerge as the central instrument. The album shows Banhart maturing as a storyteller as well, celebrating the beauty of nature in terms that approach religious fervor. On the title track, Banhart sings with one of his musical heroes, Vashti Bunyan, against a simple guitar line adorned with a plinking xylophone: â€œIn the dark we are without her empress/...Owl eyes her sun will rise and light the land/All rejoice, we are in her hands.â€ Spiritualityâ€”especially the kind involving a magical empressâ€”isnâ€™t the most instantly accessible theme in indie-rock, but the pair pulls off innocence and wonder without channeling Pedro the Lion. Clearly, Banhart is ready to emerge from the curiosity-act pigeonhole heâ€™s been incubating inside. Now, if only heâ€™d stop toting that prayer-rug blankie to his shows.