Since when did we get so suspicious? Why is it that if a shaggy-bearded man comes over all wide-eyed and kittenish, he's likely to be met with wry sideways glances that betray thoughts of "Oh yeah?" Well, get ready to drop your guard and that carefully honed sense of cool and jump with abandon into something wonderful.
When 'Rejoicing In The Hands (Of The Golden Empress)' (as the full title runs) fell through my letterbox on a recent morning, it and I took a trip to a middle-of-nowhere rushing river that sparkled in the heat and cooled under the new year's leaves. Spontaneity and a perfect setting to liberate the joy.
As far as folksy acoustic guitar playing goes, Devendra Banhart gets by. He loses his way sometimes, but he still manages to get by, maybe adding a twiddly little prrrrrang! or two on the way. In the singing department, his Bolan-esque warble is as expressive as it is idiosyncratic and lyrically, I somehow can't see him being one to slave over a couplet.
But that's the whole point. The album sounds as though he and his guitar have run over to the mic, whether in studio or a field clicking with crickets, pressed the red button and just blazed. Banhart is a complete antidote to all the consumer focus groups or hit-writers, too scared to tamper with the formula. He has stumbled upon a personal Eureka that says there're no laws governing what can be written about in song except self-imposed ones and he's taken that to his heart, and in Technicolor. Playful little ditties cover the most amazing array of topics including dancing teeth. Yes, teeth! (You owe it to yourself to hear 'This Beard Is For Siobhan'.)
Odd lines like "These are the hands, that come in handy," or "She wore the marks of fire and flame, although they are both the same," show a naturalness and ease to be envied. Right from the off, I smiled all the way through this sunny little album, breaking into occasional giggles as his childlike, but far from stupid lyrics flowed over me in the morning sun. Although the happiness is infectious, it doesn't tell the whole story as there's a sober side too that listens for the earth's heartbeat in songs like 'Autumn's Child' and 'Insect Eyes'.
Whereas Scout Niblett gives her free spirit full rein to often cacophonic and painful result, Banhart is a musical joy throughout. Even when he screws up the intro to 'Todo Los Dolores' and falls about laughing before the retake, it's endearing and invigorating.
Take a refreshing break from cynicism. There's no trapdoor but the joke might be on you if you can't succumb to the warm rays.
10Jane Oriel's Score