Devendra Banhart -Rejoicing in the Hands

Bassheadmedia | by Ian Power

Wedding voice and the guitar in extraordinary yet tangible, accessible ways

Whether or not Devendra Banhart is a part of the next big movement in folk music should eventually prove to be a non-issue—unfortunately, the folk community will probably not pay much attention to Devendra Banhart, and the indie community, touters of such a premonition, will surely not pay much attention to contemporary folk. But the connection between the indie and folk worlds is evident on Rejoicing in the Hands, Banhart’s latest release. What is most interesting about Banhart is not his lyrics, which, though far from dull, seem rather pedestrian. Nor is it the music, which is not groundbreaking, but certainly ear-catching, drawing on influences that range from Harry McClintock’s countryside plucking to the intricate textures of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. What the album accomplishes is an exercise in wedding voice and the guitar in extraordinary yet tangible, accessible ways. Banhart draws a parallel to many early 20th-century composers: where Villa-Lobos and Bartók roamed their respective countrysides gathering a bevy of folk songs to be contrived and perverted into a form of nouveau nationalistic art, Banhart successfully manipulates standard songs of the American folk tradition into his nouveau folk music. Successful quoting of old-timey tunes, from “Froggy Went a Courtin’” to “Old Joe Clark” to “Baby Bumblebee,” gives the album a familiar feel. While the audience settles in, Banhart weaves a hammock between the trees of traditional folk and indie music, managing to avoid both pretension and monotony, which in itself is quite an achievement.