Devendra Banhart, Rejoicing in the Hands | by John Straub

The more you listen, the more you hear things that you’ve never heard before

It's like finding home
In an old folk song
That you've never ever heard.
Still you know every word
And for sure you can sing along.

Those lines say everything this review needs to say. I should just leave it at that. I continue to write only because I feel some sense of obligation, but you should stop reading right now. Just stop reading, and buy yourself a copy of Rejoicing in the Hands. The quote comes from the second track, "A Sight to Behold." Before you get through the end of that track, you will understand, and you will be glad you bought the CD. My editor should delete everything in this review except the quote. I hope she does.

If she doesn’t, it’s probably because she thinks you’ll also want to read the kind of comparisons, descriptions, and objective information that you’ve come to expect from CD reviews. Maybe she’s right, so here you go [Ed. Note: Actually, it's because posting these things is enough trouble that I expect a little more than a quote, but I'm sure those other things are true, too.]:

The first time you listen to Devendra Banhart, you'll hear some things that remind you of Harry Smith's 78 collection, of outsider artists like Syd Barrett and Jandek, of 60’s folkies like Nick Drake and Vashti Bunyan… (In fact, you really will hear Vashti Bunyan sing a duet with Banhart on the title track.) But mostly you'll hear something new in the Anglo-American folk canon. You will hear completely unexpected proof that “something new in the Anglo-American folk canon” is not an oxymoron. The substance of this album just could not have been anticipated, even (especially?) if you heard his previous releases. Oh Me Oh My… (his debut LP in 2002) and The Black Babies (an EP from 2003) certainly stood out against the backdrop of “alternative” artists who seem to be trying as hard as they can to sound like inferior versions of their high-paid producers’ favorite bands from the 80’s. Nothing about the fractured compositions or amateur recording quality prevented Banhart’s unique and compelling vision from shining through. For fans of outsider art (like me), the rough edges probably helped attract attention in the first place.

But a third release along those lines would probably have been my cue to stop paying attention. Instead, we get a professionally recorded album that reveals a fully accomplished songwriter and finger picker. Comparisons to other artists become less relevant with repeated listening. The more you listen, the more you hear things that you’ve never heard before. You hear things that you’ve never even imagined, but now you are imagining them, and beginning to understand them. “It’s like finding home in an old folk song that you’ve never ever heard. Still you know every word, and for sure you can sing along.”