Devendra Banhart - Nino Rojo

New Noise | by Joanna Booth

A tall teller of strange tales

Should there be in my lifetime a nuclear holocaust, apocalypse, or spontaneous global combustion due to a fatal overdose of Simon Fuller, I hope to god I'm in the vicinity of Devendra Banhart when the shit hits the fan.

If I have to live in a bunker with no stereo or TV, I reckon that the fraggle-haired purveyor of whimsical, ethereal folk is your best bet to while away the long, dark, radioactive evenings.

Because, above all else, Banhart is a portable Jackanory, a tall teller of strange tales – or possibly the other way round. Proof, if proof were needed, is amply provided on 'Nino Rojo'.

Most accurately described as Banhart's album number two and a half, 'Nino Rojo' was recorded in the same session as the tracks on 'Rejoicing in the Hands', released earlier this year. The 23-year-old's output is prolific. These songs aren't off-cuts or second-bests. They work in tandem with the previous album, like a CD2 held back to give us a chance to mull over part one of the double album.

'We All Know' is a chunky slice of typical Banhart – bouncy, rhythmic guitars, garnished with a suffix of vaguely 20s jazz. His trademark vibrato lists the simple, weird and wonderful things we all know, before breaking into a wah-wah coda where he plays his voice like a trumpet.

'Little Yellow Spider' is a kind of abbreviated 'Just So Stories', a whistle-stop tour through a kaleidoscopic and highly personalised animal kingdom. The amazing tonal clarity of his guitar is evident in the dainty, delicate harmonies and overlayed melodic simplicity.

'My Ships' and 'Horse Head Flesh Wizard' are Devendra does Grimm Brothers, all dark eerieness, the quivering wire of his voice at its most eccentric. The first is a slow, bluesy number, the second a harried gallop, evil by black and white film score.

Once you and the rest of the survivors tire of stories, Banhart can also entertain with a good old sing-song. This album is fuller and more orchestrated than any before, with mouth organ, piano and backing vocals beefing up some songs.

'At The Hop''s dancing melody will have you up and jigging around the bunker camp fire. It's a song to call a traveller home, a summery clarion call. The lyrics are vintage Banhart, inspired nonsense with truth at their core. "Cook me in your breakfast, put me on your plate, 'cos you know I taste great," he sings, followed by, "put me in your tongue-tied, make it hard to say, that you ain't gonna stay."

'Be Kind' is a country-tinged sing-along, with honky-tonk tambourine and tinkles on the old joanna. There's a swaying, bumptious rhythm and accompanying voices in the refrain. 'The Good Red Road' is similar, but for later in the evening, bluesy, drowsy and drunk.

The fun doesn't end there. Bunker down in your sleeping bags and Banhart will send you to sleep. For the kids, delicate pastoral nursery-rhyme 'Water May Walk' has birdsong and dabs of xylophone. Here his voice is comfortingly husky, staying within his most comfortable range to snooze you into dreams of a rural idyll.

One of the triumphs of the album is lullaby / seduction song 'A Ribbon'. It's dark chocolate, with bitter-toned guitar warming as the vocals start. It would be haunting if it wasn't for Banhart's whisper and the spiralling, falling melody, but the piano adds a touch of moonlight even as it lulls you.

So if the world ends, Banhart is your best bet. And with global events as they are, I'm going out to dig my bunker now.