"Rejoicing in the Hands"
In a recent BBC interview with Jools Holland, singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart rejected the notion that he sounds anything like Nick Drake, Syd Barrett or Marc Bolan, no matter how often the comparisons are made. "When I look in the mirror I visualize old men, old women, alligators, bark, soap dish dispensers, pieces of glass," he insisted, sounding, dare we say, not unlike a young and contentious Bob Dylan.
Banhart's response bears repeating because he pretty much writes the way he talks, constructing neo-folk ditties riddled with scattershot imagery -- or, as one of his songs on "Rejoicing in the Hands" puts it, an outpouring of "sparkling thoughts." And boy, does he have a knack for it. Just listen to "Poughkeepsie," which devolves from vivid snapshot ("Summer days she stays by her window / Her saggy flesh it sweeps the floor") into a stuttering recital of Elvis Presley tune titles. Or "This Beard Is for Siobhan," in which Banhart morphs into a latter-day vaudevillian, crooning in a tremulous tenor, "I could take my little teeth out and show them a real good time." Playing fingerstyle guitar mostly, Banhart loosely drapes his lyrics over coiled riffs and rhythms, a tack that proves both entrancing and dulling over the course of 16 brief and charmingly offbeat tunes.
His collaboration with Vetiver is a far more colorful affair, with banjo, harp, piano and strings creating dreamy atmospherics and a sometimes whimsical air. Banhart has certainly found a kindred spirit in tunesmith Andy Cabic, and with the help of several guest musicians, including Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval and former My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm O'Ciosoig, the band succeeds in conjuring a series of surreal folk musings and hymns.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Thursday at Iota. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Devendra Banhart, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8122; to hear Vetiver, press 8123. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)