In the booklet accompanying Devendra Banhart's Rejoicing
in the Hands, ornately printed lyrics swirl around line drawings
of birds and hands. The words themselves are nearly impossible
to read, but they're beautiful and mysterious and occasionally
a legible phrase pokes through the thicket: "Love is like
golden corn." "Dogs they make up the dark." "I
can take my little teeth out and show them a real good time."
Never mind. Inscrutability is one of the chief pleasures of Banhart's
music. It wafts by, working its delicate wiles, utterly baffling
and yet always ringing vague bells. An Appalachian folk song?
A rag? Delta blues?
Those genres all have a home on Rejoicing, just as they
did on his heralded 2002 debut, Oh Me Oh My. But there's
always something off-kilter about the presentation, whether it's
erratic tempos ("Tit Smoking in the Temple of Artesan Mimicry,"
an instrumental) or unexpectedly syncopated melodies. That and
his uniquely warbling tenor, nearly a soprano in places, are enough
to save Banhart from being called a mere imitator.
And then there are those lyrics. Most often, you won't know what
the man is singing about, just as you won't be able to read the
lyric sheet. But as with the printed version, bits of poetry leap
out, and they don't sound like anyone else (though James Mercer
of The Shins, another surrealist, might be considered a
brother in arms).
Not enough has been made of Banhart's guitar playing, which manages
to be both spare and intricate at once, approaching the style-
if not the virtuosity- of Nick Drake. Almost everything
is finger-picked on what at times sounds like a classical guitar,
a touch that adds to the disc's vintage feel.
Banhart's melodies are understated and immediately accessible,
perhaps most noticeably on "This Is the Way" and "The
Body Breaks," the latter of which has an unusually pretty
chord progression. Judicious overdubs (piano, strings, harmony
vocals) sound as if they were present from the start.
This batch of tunes come from a marathon recording session that
produced somewhere between 30 and 50 songs. A second album from
that session will be released in September.
1. This Is the Way
2. Sight to Behold
3. Body Breaks
5. Dogs They Make Up the Dark
6. Will Is My Friend
7. This Beard Is for Siobhán
8. See Saw
9. Tit Smoking in the Temple of Artesan Mimicry
10. Rejoicing in the Hands
12. Todo los Dolores
13. When the Sun Shone on Vetiver
14. There Was Sun
15. Insect Eyes
16. Autumn's Child
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