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Devendra Banhart
Nino Rojo -AND- Rejoicing in the Hands (Young God Records)

By: Alex Steininger

Intimate, lo-fi, and soft-sung, Devendra Banhart's debut, Oh Me Oh My--, recorded on various 4-tracks (including several broken ones), helped establish him as a critic's darling for his uncompromising, home-recorded, minimalist approach to indie-folk. Creating songs that shined despite anything other than soft guitar plucking and Banhart's voice, Banhart's uncanny ability to write gorgeous melodies were unquestionably full sounding here..

The release, which seemingly came out of nowhere, helped garner Banhart a small, growing underground following from journalists and music fans alike.

Then, with critical praise and support from the indie world propelling him up several rungs, Banhart and Michael Gira (Young God Records' founder) chose to forgo another record of 4-track recordings in favor of recording at engineer Lynn Bridges' house on the Georgia/Alabama border.

The result was fifty-seven songs, thirty-two of which were chosen to appear on two different albums.

The first one to be released was Rejoicing in the Hands, which was released on April 26, 2004.

Whereas Oh Me Oh My-- was oft-times desolate and lonely sounding in the recordings themselves, Rejoicing in the Hands filled this out with its more proper-studio polish. But the isolation and tenderness of Banhart's songs were not harmed in the recording, translating into an equally compelling record that shows the progression in Banhart's abilities.

Still sparse, Banhart fleshed out the songs with a bit more instrumentation, including light strings and a guest vocalist, giving the songs a bit more juice and allowing Banhart to stretch his musical prowess a bit, all without alienating the songs or the audience.

Following Rejoicing in the Hands, as promised, is Nino Rojo, the second-part of those Bridges' recording sessions.

Nino Rojo includes light overdubs (Gira and Banhart took the songs back to New York and tweaked them a bit) of keyboard, harmonica, horn, backing vocals, and a tiny bit of electric guitar, as well as a bit of percussion, elaborating on Banhart's ability of writing stripped down, bare songs, but incorporating enough to spice them up.

Ranging from blues to European folk, through the light-psychedelic, Banhart doesn't contain himself to just one style or sound, preferring to jump around, meld, and infuse these styles with his own touch.

Just like Oh Me Oh My-- and Rejoicing in the Hands are pure, spiritual, soulful affairs, so is Nino Rojo, bringing forth more spiritual and soulful vibes, offering up richer-than-ever songs, a bit of humor intertwining with the beautiful compositions.

Nino Rojo is an autumn put to music, the leaves of the trees falling off, the green turned to brown, and the cold chill of the wind, while the sun shines through the clouds, decorating the city street as you walk down it, daydreaming and living life.

This is the emotion and power of Banhart's music and more than ever, Nino Rojo captures this purity and helps turn it into sound. All three records are of exceptional poise and beauty, but it is Nino Rojo, emerging as the third installment of Banhart's musical vision, that stands out as the focal point of his emerging career and as the record to first expose yourself to.

A timeless, classic-in-the-making, Banhart has recorded three unforgettable records. All have that precious quality, but for my money I'd recommend Nino Rojo. I'll give all three A-'s.

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