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Thursday, September 18, 2014 
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'Rejoicing' With Devendra Banhart

Devendra Banhart's 2001 debut Oh Me Oh My (Young God) was simultaneously one of the oddest and most beautiful records of the new century, trembling with emotion, bursting with talent, but held back somewhat by thick tape hiss, iffy production and, on one song at least, the bleed-through of gunfire from outside Banhart's Paris apartment. It was an outsider album through and through, but sung and played in an unforgettable folk-into-blues style that felt both traditional and utterly new.

Banhart's follow-up, Rejoicing in the Hands (Young God) is an altogether different kind of record, not exactly smooth, but clear, clean and serene. Banhart sounds calmer, more assured here, yet he loses not an ounce of his skewed, elliptical charm. You realize, on listening to Rejoicing, that you were looking through a dirty window before, but that now the glass is clean and the view is as good, if not better, than ever.

"Oh Me Oh My was something I could never do again," Banhart said during a recent interview. "That record wasn't just capturing a song, it was capturing a time in my life, because I really was traveling with 4-tracks and answering machines and rudimentary equipment, and dumping everything that was happening psychologically at that time."

Much of Oh Me Oh My, he explained, was recorded on friends' answering machines, phoned in from various places he was staying in Europe. The songs were often recorded only once, with little chance to fill out and develop. "I was trying to record songs as quickly as I possibly could," he said. "I was always rushing. I had to leave or something."

By contrast, Banhart played the songs on Rejoicing in the Hands more, including at live shows, and had a chance to work out his ideas more fully. "So these are more like songs, I think, and a little more fleshed out," he explained. "There are feelings in the songs, but the last record was just feelings. Maybe it's like I was entering a place full of cobwebs in the first one, and in this one, the cobwebs have been cleaned out and I was exploring an underwater cave or something."

The album was recorded at an old house (owned by engineer Lynn Bridges) on the Alabama/Georgia line in, as Banhart calls it, "the realm of manicures and liquor stores." The house, he said, was spacious, creaky and filled with animals, but perhaps its oddest features were the glass spiderweb sculptures that hung everywhere. During a little over a week, Banhart — helped by Bridges, Young God proprietor Michael Gira (Swans, Angels of Light) and percussionist Thor Harris (Shearwater, Angels of Light) — recorded some 57 tracks, enough for two albums (the second is set for release this summer). The tapes were then taken back to New York, where various instruments, including piano, strings and percussion, were overdubbed, creating a much more varied sound than was on Banhart's previous, voice-and-guitar-only album.

Sessions for the album took place during intense 12-hour days. "It wasn't exhausting, actually," Banhart said, when asked about the schedule. "It was just, wake up at around 9 and we'd be done around 10 p.m., but for some reason it wasn't exhausting, because all I was thinking about was making a version that I could live with. I didn't get an opportunity to do that with the first record. I was aware that this would be the version that people would hear, and I was really just concentrating on making sure that that was the version that I would be happy with, that I could listen to."

The result is near-masterpiece of simple, beautiful songs sung in Banhart's distinctive lost-folk-master voice, accompanied by country-blues-ish guitar and a light wash of piano, stand-up bass and drums. The songs are clearly more developed and thought-out than those on Oh Me Oh My, and the production — nothing fancy, just clean, clear sound — allows them to shine through.

The spiritual center of Rejoicing in the Hands is its title track, in which Banhart sings a duet with his musical idol, British folk singer Vashti Bunyan. "Vashti is the reason I play music, and the first person ever to support me musically, and one of the reasons I want to write music and play music," Banhart said. "I got to know her through email and talk, and I've met her many times, and I got the courage to write her this song, and I sent it to her, and she sent it back...."

Despite the fact that Banhart and Bunyan weren't actually in the same room when they recorded the track, their voices blend perfectly. And, surprisingly, Bunyan's voice sounds nearly identical to the way it did on her Joe Boyd-produced Just Another Diamond Day, originally recorded in the mid-1960s. (Long out of print, it was re-released on Phillips in 2000.) "She really has not lost any of anything, you know. She's the same person. It's unbelievable," Banhart said. He added that Bunyan has a new record coming out later this summer, and said the songs are just as good as, if not better than, her 1960s material.

"Will Is My Friend" is another highlight, one of the gentlest, warmest tracks on the album. Banhart explained that he really does have a good friend named Will, who does, in fact, sing like British bluesman John Mayall. "He's always singing that John Mayall song, 'Goin' Back to California,'" he said, quoting a line from the song, "And the song is an ode to him. I love that guy."

The song is remarkably, transparently simple, feeling like a long-forgotten folk song more than a contemporary composition, so I asked Banhart if it was hard to hone in on that kind of elemental clarity. "It's really interesting, isn't it, that it would be difficult?" he answered. "But the way that my process is going, usually, I start off with a notebook and then I just edit it, edit it, edit it. Get rid of the lines, cross out, cross out, until I get to what feels like an essence, and that essence is the song."

The album also includes a beautiful psyche-tinged ballad called "When the Sun Shone on Vetiver," which is a nod to the San Francisco folk band with whom Banhart currently shares living quarters. Banhart recently moved back to the Bay Area from New York City; he’s a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute. He’s currently writing songs with Vetiver's Andy Cabic, and the whole household is growing a garden.

One of the really great things about talking to Banhart is that he's always got 10 or 20 bands that he's just discovered and is dying to tell everyone about. Banhart has excellent, eccentric taste, and his recommendations are always worth checking out. For instance, last year he was focusing on older, in some cases little-known (and, to a one, brilliant) artists such as Karen Dalton, Vashti Bunyan, Linda Perhacs, Judy Henske and Fred Neil. His current recommendations are more current and include the Children's Hour (out on Rough Trade), Espers, Six Organs of Admittance (and the related, but much louder Comets on Fire), Xiu Xiu, Vetiver, Joanna Newsome (out on Drag City), Little Wing, Viking Moses, Iron & Wine and Antony & the Johnsons ("He has the most gorgeous singing voice that I've ever heard in my whole life.")

Banhart is touring Europe through the end of May. For touring and other info, check the Young God site. When Banhart returns, he and Cabic will travel to Brazil to work on a new record they’ll sing in Spanish and Portuguese, inspired by Caetano Veloso and Gal Costa's first record, 1967’s Domingo. — Jenny Kelly [Monday, April 12, 2004]


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John Vanderslice Kicks Genre

Paul Duncan's Elusive Pop

Stephen Yerkey's Wandering Songs

French Kicks Complete 'Two Thousand'

Spazzy Romanticism: Love Story In Blood Red

Brain Surgeons NYC Rock The Big Questions

Jarboe's 'Men' Charts Turbulent Emotions

Delta 5's Edgy Post-Punk Resurrected

Blitzen Trapper Spiff Things Up

Minus Five: Booze, Betrayal, Bibles and Guns

New Compilation Spotlights Forgotten Folk Guitar Heroes

Chris Brokaw's Experiment In Pop

Old And New With Death Vessel

Silver Jews: Salvation And Redemption

Jana Hunter's Beautiful Doom

Vashti Bunyan Finds Her Voice Again

Nick Castro's Turkish Folk Delight

Katrina Hits New Orleans Musicians Hard

Paula Frazer's Eerie Beauty

The National Find Emotional Balance

Death Cab For Cutie's New Album, Tour

Heavy Trash's Rockabilly Rampage

Help The Wrens Get Their Albums Released!

Devendra Banhart, Andy Cabic Launch Label

Lydia Lunch's Noir Seductions

Bosque Brown's The Real Deal

PDX Pop Now! Fest Announces Lineup

Sarah Dougher Starts Women-Focused Label

Jennifer Gentle's Joyful Psyche

Mountain Goat Darnielle Gets Autobiographical With 'Sunset Tree'

Mia Doi Todd's Beautiful Collaboration

Return of the Gang of Four

Martha Wainwright Finds Her Voice

Brian Jonestown Massacre's Acid Joyride

Solo Disc Due From Pixies' Frank Black

Heartless Bastards' Big-Hearted Rock

Mike Watt's Midlife Journey

The Black Swans Balance Old And New

Nicolai Dunger's Swedish Blues

The Insomniacs' Hard-Edged Pop

Yo La Tengo Collection Due

Juana Molina's 'Homemade' Sound

Beans Evolves

Earlimart's Songs Of Loss

Devendra Banhart's 'Mosquito Drawings'

Negativland Rerelease 'Helter Stupid'

Alina Simone Transforms The Ordinary

Sounds From Nature: Laura Veirs

Octet's Fractured Electric Pop

Sleater-Kinney Working With Lips Producer

The Cult Of Silkworm

The Evolution Of The Concretes

Devendra Banhart's Exuberant New Songs

Catching Up With The Incredible String Band

Gram Rabbit's Desert Visions

Three Indie-Rock Stars Unite As Maritime

Remembering Johnny Ramone

Jarboe's Many Voices

Phil Elvrum's Long Hard Winter

First U.S. Release For Vashti Bunyan Album

Incredible String Band To Tour U.S.

New Music From Lydia Lunch

Le Tigre Protest The Bush War Presidency

Joel RL Phelps: Bleak Songs Rock Hard

Time Tripping With Galaxie 500

Patti Smith Wants Bush Out!

Sharron Kraus: A New Kind Of Folk Music

The Fiery Furnaces' Psychedelic Theater

Harder, Heavier Burning Brides

Sonic Youth's Ongoing Experiment

The Dt's Do It Their Way

Poster Children Cover Political Rock

Rare Thelonious Monk Recordings Due

Uneasy Pop From dios

Beck, Lips, Waits Cover Daniel Johnston

Understanding Franz Ferdinand

The Truly Amazing Joanna Newsom

Mylab's Boundary-Crossing Experiments In Sound

Have You Heard Jolie Holland Whistle?

The 'Magical Realism' Of Vetiver

The Restless, Rootsy Songs Of Eszter Balint

The Sun Sets On The Blasters

Devendra Banhart To Tour U.S.

The East/West Fusion Sounds Of Macha

Destroyer Gets Mellow For Your Blues

TV On The Radio Get Political

Sonic Youth, Modest Mouse To Play Lollapalooza 2004

New Music From The Fall

Apocalyptic Sound From The Intelligence

Fast And Rude With The Casual Dots

'Rejoicing' With Devendra Banhart

New Album, Tour From The Polyphonic Spree

Shearwater Take Wing

Sleater-Kinney To Tour East/West Coasts

Resurrecting Rocket From The Tombs

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Lloyd Cole Makes A Commotion

Funkstörung's 'Cut-Up' Theory

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Electrelane Find Their Voice

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Experimental Sounds From Hannah Marcus

The Ponys Play With Rayguns

Ex-Mono Men Leader Returns With The Dt's

Mountain Goats' Darnielle Adopts A More Hi-Fi Sound

Sun Kil Moon To Tour U.S., Europe

Nothin' But The Truth From The Von Bondies

Sultans Survive 'Shipwreck'

Sebadoh Reunite For Spring Tour

Xiu Xiu's 'Reality' Rock

Meet The Patients

Beth Orton, M. Ward Make Sadness Taste Sweet

Oneida's Pathway To Ecstasy

Radiohead, Pixies, Dizzee Rascal To Play Coachella

Young People Tour Behind War Prayers

Pixies Tour Dates Announced

Ani DiFranco Tells It Like It Is

Deerhoof Back For 2004 With Milkman

McLusky Set To 'Bring On The Big Guitars' Again

Pixies Reunite For U.S., European Tours

American Music Club, Decemberists To Play NoisePop 2004

Damien Rice Set To Tour U.S.

The Frames Accept Your Love

Punk Rock's A-Frames To Re-Record Third Album

Finally! Mission Of Burma Record New Album

A Solo Detour For Ladybug Transistor's Sasha Bell

Return Of The Old 97's

Spending The Night With Damien Rice

Tindersticks Reissues Due This Spring

The Evolution Of 'A Silver Mt. Zion'

Neil Young Rocks Australia With 'Greendale'

Poster Children Back In Action

'The Great Cat Power Disaster Of 2003'

Chicks On Speed's Subversive Strategies

Oranger At A Crossroad

Peaches On Tour And In Control

Jawbreaker's Complete Dear You Sessions To Be Released

Belle & Sebastian + Trevor Horn = Sunny Pop Nirvana

Von Bondies' Pawn Shoppe Heart

Descendents Are Back!

Modest Mouse Touring; Album Due in 2004

London Suede Take A (Permanent?) Break

Saul Williams Wants You To Think For Yourself

The 'Zen' Sound Of Calexico

Elliott Smith Dead AT 34

Debut Due From Mark Kozelek's Sun Kil Moon

The Hunches: Music That'll 'Fucking Live Forever'

Vic Chesnutt Speaks His Mind

90 Day Men Cancel Tour

Keith Jarrett, Cecil Taylor Highlight SF Jazz Festival

For My Morning Jacket, It's The Music That Matters

EP Due From The Polyphonic Spree

Bright Eyes, Neva Dinova Collaborate On EP

The Rise & Fall & Rise Of Ben Lee

Catching Up With Cheerfully Defiant Tricky

Hanging Around With The Polyphonic Spree

Sophomore Album Due From The Shins

Noise Rock From Iceland's Singapore Sling

Death Cab To Tour U.S.

Rufus Wainwright's Want One Is 'Family Affair'

Death Cab's Transatlanticism On The Way

Heartfelt Rock From Sweden's Last Days Of April

The Minus 5 Get Down With Wilco

Tywanna Jo Baskette's Southern-Gothic Rock

Xiu Xiu's Stewart Takes On 'Gay-bashing'

Portishead Producer Resurfaces Behind New Diva

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Wire, Primal Scream On Buddyhead Comp

Yeah Yeah Yeahs To Tour West Coast

Sonic Youth, Erase Errata Kick Off 'Buddy Series'

The Locust Are One Scary Band

Damien Rice In The 'Here And Now'

Remembering Karp's Scott Jernigan

ATP-NY Postponed 'Til At Least 2004

The Soul Of Chris Lee

Gits' Frenching The Bully To See Re-Release

Stephen Malkmus Is In Control

Superchunk To Release Rarities Set; Teenage Girls To Swoon As A Result

Summer Touring For The Gossip

Babbling On About Deerhoof

Irish Song Poet Damien Rice's O Released In U.S.

Chatting With ATP's Barry Hogan

Former Digable Planets Frontman Surfaces With Cherrywine

ATP L.A. Festival Rescheduled For Fall

Freakwater's Janet Bean Takes A Solo Turn

Lee's 'Cool Rock'

Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs Highlight YES NEW YORK

Mark Romanek's 'Hurt' Revives Johnny Cash's Career

The Rapture's Post-Punk, Post-Dance Sound

R.E.M., Wilco, Modest Mouse Highlight Bumbershoot Fest

Set Fires To Flames' Sleep-Deprivation Sound

Southern Gothic Past Shadows Verbena's La Musica Negra

The Subtle Evolution Of Yo La Tengo

Spring Tour For Jolie Holland (Plus A Live Album)

Liz Phair Still Pushing The Limits

Gold Chains Wants You To Dance And Think

Young People's War Prayers On The Way



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