Niño Rojo

Niño Rojo

by Devendra Banhart
     
 
Devendra Banhart is quite a character. Steeped in folk music tradition -- the real thing, not the branch that sees Bob Dylan as the wellspring of all things -- and summer-of-love ambiance, the young singer-songwriter ranks high on the list of new-generation artists capable of reducing an audience to sheer silence, all the better, in this

Overview

Devendra Banhart is quite a character. Steeped in folk music tradition -- the real thing, not the branch that sees Bob Dylan as the wellspring of all things -- and summer-of-love ambiance, the young singer-songwriter ranks high on the list of new-generation artists capable of reducing an audience to sheer silence, all the better, in this case, to appreciate his fragile musings. Niño Rojo is the companion piece to Rejoicing in the Hands, which Banhart released earlier in 2004, and the newer disc carries much the same blend of whimsy, woodsiness, and downright weird moments -- the last stemming from his undammed stream-of-consciousness lyrical bent. Banhart's quavery tenor and languid finger-picking bring an appropriate rusticity to the disc's sole cover tune, a version of Ella Jenkins's "Wake Up, Little Sparrow." On his own compositions, Banhart flits from utterly guileless, as on the violin-tinged animal-kingdom travelogue "Little Yellow Spider," to ghostly and surreal, as on "HorsseheadedfleshWizard," which incorporates an early-music influence with uncanny precision. While he's certainly prone to taking flights of fancy at the drop of a joss stick, Banhart is every bit as capable of connecting with something as straightforward as "Be Kind," which lopes along with a bubblegum-mystic gait that recalls nothing so much as primo Donovan. On one hand, Devendra Banhart seems like something of a throwback to a more innocent age, but in point of fact, he'd be seen as a bit of an outsider in any era.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
As was promised upon the release of Rejoicing in the Hands in the spring of 2004, Niño Rojo is a companion piece. It was assembled from the same recording sessions at Lynn Bridges' Atlanta home that produced 57 tracks. Thirty-two were chosen for the two albums. Some were overdubbed minimally in New York by Young God label boss Michael Gira and Devendra Banhart adding a nip of keyboard or harmonica here, and tucked in horn, backing vocal, or electric guitar there. What these songs showcase is that Banhart is a songwriter of guileless vision. His unaffected aesthetic is etched in the ether of mysterious traditional and psychedelic folk musics from the British Isle and in an America that disappeared the first time in the '30s with the Dust Bowl and for the second time in the grimness of mid-'70s determinism in the shadows of post-Vietnam shame and malaise. Banhart's songs don't hearken back so much as remind us of what we no longer possess as a culture. His songs are spiritual, terminally unhip, with labyrinthine grown-up melodies and the keen unsullied wisdom of children. These 16 songs include the mysterious minor key cipher that is "A Ribbon," with its eerie guitars, a beautifully etched chorus, and an all but hidden keyboard underscoring the quietly insistent vocal. His cover of Ella Jenkins' "Little Sparrow," opens the album; accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, Banhart transfers the song from the universe of its origin as childhood ballad to a bluesy exhortation to spiritual awakening. A slow, easy major chord stroll, "We All Know," with its delightfully ridiculous lyric (."..we belong to the floating hand that was made by animals/we dance so, we let go/we'll remove clothes and we'll trade lobes...."). Seamlessly it shifts and walks the edge of a vaudeville rag that comes complete with accompanying trombones in the chorus at the end. And speaking of rags, there's the nocturnal spiritual guitar blues of "My Ships" that recalls the Rev. Gary Davis illustrating the point that Banhart confines himself to no one terrain, no single point of origin or destination. For Banhart, writing a song is one discovery -- give a listen to "At the Hop" written with Andy Cabic with its bright, canny, gorgeously impure love poetry -- and recording is another. Combining them is yet a third for both performer and listener. Like its companion recording, Niño Rojo is about the shared delight of new encounters with music and language and is an adventure in the hearing.

Product Details

Release Date:
09/21/2004
Label:
Young God Records
UPC:
0658457002520
catalogNumber:
25

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