CMJ Music Monthly | by Joe Martin

...the man continues to experiment

Earlier this year, Devendra Banhart took the idiosyncratic, lo-fi intimacy of his first recordings and made them swell on the excellent, earthily ornate Rejoicing In The Hands. Niño Rojo, the singer/ songwriter's second batch of songs for 2004 and third full-length in all, forces listeners down an even steeper rabbit hole, taking more chances and, suitably, failing more often. He treads precariously close to audience alienation: Casual listeners might be shocked to learn of the singer's not-so-secret hippie leanings when—amid chants of "Oh! All the little animals!"—he sings of a "happy squid" that "moves so psychedelically" ("Little Yellow Spider"). Luckily, the missteps are almost always offset by Banhart's ever-charming croon and willingness to toy with his sound. "Be Kind" romps like nothing the singer's done before, bolstered by a shambling doo-wop backbeat and electric guitar riffage. Likewise, "Ay Mama" inverts Rejoicing's "Todo Los Dolores," employing sickly horns and smoothing each Spanish syllable into a flurry of meditative incoherence. Guest turns by Michael Gira ("Electric Heart") and Vetiver's Andy Cabic (the bittersweet "At The Hop") buoy the album's playful spirit, but Niño Rojo's real joy comes in discovering that rather than sticking with an already winning formula, the man continues to experiment. It's easy to play folk straight; Banhart, happily, chooses to keep it bent.