The Year's 40 Best Albums

Beta Music

2 Devendra Banhart-Rejoicing in the Hands (Young God) / Devendra Banhart-Nino Rojo (Young God)

People either get Devendra Banhart or they just plain don't. But in 2004, the 23 year old folksinger put out two full-length albums, both astonishing, both pristine. April saw the release of Rejoicing In The Hands, while Nino Rojo emerged in September. On the two albums, Banhart's ties to traditional American folk and blues have become even more evident, as are intimations of previously undeclared affinities to Fairport Convention and Bert Jansch. The spiritual purity of his music hits hard: with the studio circumstances of their birth, the new songs have lost the cloying witchiness of the debut, leaving you with old-fashioned songs that concern themselves with the important, small things in life. On Rejoicing In The Hands 's closer "Autumn's Child", Banhart's high voice quivers like a feather above a soft, piano line. Nino Rojo takes Banhart even further from the early Syd Barrett and Marc Bolan comparisons that dogged him in 2002. As a record, it's more stripped down, burrowing into a locus where folk meets blues in a very primitive way. On "My Ships", he sings: "My fists are plastic dice, oh the shape of the sun" and delivers it so offhandedly that it smacks you like an epiphany. The gospel-ness of the line is hard to pin down, not because it has no true tie to organized religion, but because Banhart obviously intends his music to be as much about good fun and great songs as about absolute truths. Devendra Banhart is Beta's Artist of the Year for 2004.