Banhart hones his songwriting with 'Rojo'
Michigan Daily | by Evan MacKinder
Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 starsDevendra Banhartâ€™s records have always acted as a soundtrack to the beauty of nature. His first release of 2004, the enigmatic, free-folk cornerstone Rejoicing in the Hands carried song titles like â€œTit Smoking in the Temple of Artesan Mimicry,â€ and introduced themes of naturalism and modernity into Banhartâ€™s canon. â€œTicks Eat the Olives,â€ the opening track to Banhartâ€™s first record Oh Me Oh My, introduced the singer/songwriter to the underground folk scene with a swirling, lyrically abstract song about tear-spawned olives that are devoured by ticks, which originate in the back of the human head.
Banhartâ€™s third release, Nino Rojo, continues his obtuse lyricism â€” which has catapulted Banhart to the peak of todayâ€™s folk scene â€” yet is, in many ways, unique from its predecessors. His trademarked lyrics are now juxtaposed with a welcomed shadow of instrumentaion which was introduced with his folk stylings.
â€œWake Up Little Sparrowâ€ introduces Rojo as a record rooted in typical folk fashion with its sole finger-picked guitar. The album quickly builds from there as Banhart incorporates horns to play a backdrop in tracks like â€œAy Mamaâ€ and â€œWe All Know.â€
Banhartâ€™s strongest quality is his innate ear for songcraft and songwriting, displayed prominently throughout Rojo. Banhart uses a hybridization between folk simplicity and lo-fi instrumentation, as strings, harmonicas, pianos and banjos are all prominently showcased, often overshadowing Banhartâ€™s guitar. â€œLittle Yellow Spiderâ€ is a whimsical ballad showcasing Banhartâ€™s naturalistic imagery, and lyrical prowess: â€œLittle yellow spider laughing at the snow / Maybe that spider knows something I donâ€™t know / â€˜cause Iâ€™m godamned coldâ€
Rojo also stayâ€™s true to a simple folk musicâ€™s form. â€œMy Shipsâ€ and â€œA Ribbonâ€ which stay true to its straightforwardness, translating to the listener the sense of independence each track is given by Banhart.
While NiÃ±o Rojo is not necessarily Banhartâ€™s best album, its a continuation of his eccentric songwriting, and is a progression of his abilities to craft songs instrumentally. It builds upon the talents introduced by Oh My Oh My and this yearâ€™s Rejoicing in the Hands while leaving room for improvement like its predecessors.