Rejoicing In the Hands

by Devendra Banhart

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“…his raw songcraft is terrifyingly effective at communicating the breadth of human emotion… beautiful,damaged,naked and utterly compelling.”- THE WIRE

“The quaver in Mr. Banhart's voice is as shaky as his songs' connection to everyday reality...his songs and fragments ponder animals, apparitions, logical leaps and childlike certainties, all with credible eccentricity.”- THE NEW YORK TIMES #2 ALTERNATIVE ALBUM OF 2002

“It's been awhile since an obsessive, naïve, utterly original musical visionary…emerged from a private sanctum into the embrace of the rock cognoscenti. But we've got one now.” -THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

“He possesses a warble I won't soon forget, and if that isn't the mark of a classic balladeer I don't know what is… If part of a folk singer's power comes from the purity of his conviction, then Banhart's promising debut is the sign of someone destined for great, strange things.” - WWW.PITCHFORKMEDIA.COM

2 years ago I first heard the crude home made recordings of Devendra Banhart, then a homeless, wandering, neo psych/folk hippie artist and musician, not yet 21 years old. We released these recordings on YGR because we'd never heard anything quite like them, ever. His voice - a quivering high-tension wire, sounded like it could have been recorded 70 years ago - these songs could have been sitting in someone's attic, left there since the 1930's. The response was astounding . Devendra soon moved here to NYC (from SF), where he lived in squats, couch-surfed, and finally found himself a home (very recently), suddenly riding a tidal wave of press acclaim, 3 or 4 US tours, tours in Europe, a special feature on NPR (for God's sake) – in short, a seismic shift in his fortunes. He's the most genuine, least cynical and calculated artist I've ever known, and he deserves every bit of the good things now coming his way. He's also one of the most innately talented, magical performers I have ever heard. Period. He GIVES. This kind of generosity and breadth of emotion is all too rare these days. Whether the songs are pained, twisted, whimsical, or even sometimes weirdly silly, aside from being fantastically musical and expertly played, they are also utterly sincere, and devoid of a single drop of post modern irony. In short, he's the real thing.

When it came time to record new music we were of course faced with the quandary of how to go about it – does he continue making hiss-saturated home recordings, or do we go into a “professional” studio? We mutually decided that it was best to move on – why should he be ghetto-ized as a possible low-fi crank/eccentric? Besides, his songwriting and his guitar playing (in my opinion) have taken such leaps and bounds forward, that we were compelled to record them in a way that made it possible to really hear the performances clearly. Out of nowhere, the perfect situation arose. Lynn Bridges, who works with Jimmy Johnson (of Mussel Shoals fame – Bob Dylan, The Band etc etc…) contacted us and invited us down to his house on the Alabama/Georgia border, where we recorded 32 songs (culled from something like 57 Devendra had initially submitted!) in his living room, using the best possible vintage gear. Ideal. Devendra sat on his stool in that living room for 10 days, 12 hours a day, and played, constantly. We set up a mic for his voice, a few on his guitar, and one or two in the room (an old, Georgia-style southern house with tall ceilings, wood floors etc.), and that's what you hear, for the most part, on these recordings (along with the occasional chorus of cicadas, when we happened to be recording at night, with the windows open). Then, we took these recordings to NYC and added a few overdubs here and there, played by a host of musicians (The song Rejoicing in the Hands features a tender duet with the legendary 60's English Pop Singer gamin (and one of Devendra's idols) Vashti Bunyan)...Deciding on the final arrangements was ridiculously easy – the songs were so good in their raw state that there was no need to bolster them with sonic fluff or cheap impact. So, there's a few sounds entering and leaving at will here and there, but hopefully they simply set a context. The important thing is always Devendra's performance, and his uncanny ability to transport us, through story/words, and some pretty amazing finger-pickin' (!), just using his acoustic guitar and voice. I consider him to be an antidote, maybe even a sort of narcotic - that rare case where you feel like you're coming home when you listen to a piece of music…

- Michael Gira / Young God Records/2004

: Produced by Michael Gira and Devendra Banhart

CONTRIBUTING MUSICIANS : Vashti Bunyan - vocal duet on "Rejoicing..."; Jerome O'Brien - double bass; Joe McGinty - piano; Thor Harris - percussion; Julia Kent - cello; Paul Cantelon -violin; Siobhan Duffy - backing vocals; Patrick Fondiller - bass; Steve Moses - drums/perc.... Devendra sang and played acoustic guitar, electric/slide guitar, piano, and kazoo...

Rejoicing In The Hands is the first of two Devendra Banhart albums to be released this year (16 songs) on Young God Records. The second album, Nino Rojo (also 16 songs), will be released in late September '04

5/29/2004 | London Times by Stevie Chick

Devendra Banhart

Rejoicing in the Hands of the Golden Empress

His voice sounds as if it was lifted from an old Alan Lomax field recording, strip-mined directly off a dusty shellac 78, pops and scratches intact; a troubadour’s croon wavering with a unique amalgam of jazz, blues and Appalachian folk. Discovered by Michael Gira, of the New York noiseniks Swans, who released a debut album of his lo-fi home recordings two years ago, Banhart returns with this remarkable, unforgettable collection of fractured folk and joyful blues.

For all Devendra’s capacity for bone-chilling twists and passages of powerful melancholy, Rejoicing is an album defined, fittingly, by moments of heady, exultant joy — the overriding character of his singing is an unselfconscious ecstasy bubbling up from his heart, melding elements of the ancient and the sacred with the solicitous flair of a white swan-riding Marc Bolan. The songs here are spectral and enigmatic slivers spun on the sparsest instrumentation, ranging from Break the Body which courses with a gentle eroticism reminiscent of Tim Buckley at his most nakedly soulful to the faintly medievalist title ditty, accompanied by the great folk enigma Vashti Bunyan, and imbued with a potent, mystical spirituality.

The last time such a prodigious talent came on the scene was when Jeff Buckley released his first album, perhaps a fine reference point for the ambition and ability at play here; but Banhart — less refined but more audaciously gifted — sings his own song, and seems blissfully oblivious to the idea that anyone might be listening. But, soon, many will be.

Pitchfork review 2004

Devendra Banhart
Rejoicing in the Hands
[Young God; 2004]
Rating: 8.4

You and I listen to more music than anyone in the history of civilization. I don't mean more than your friend or that guy on that message board who seems to know about every buzz-worthy leaked CD before anyone else, but rather, more than any previous generation of active music fans. Think about all our MP3s and CDRs, the stuff we actually buy, and then add in the music we hear once and immediately declare isn't worth the 45 seconds we spent with it. It almost seems ridiculous, because ultimately, few of us would be willing to recommend more than but a few songs (let alone albums) to anyone outside our close-knit music circles. Digital media was supposed to satisfy the audiophiles with better sound and the businessmen with yet another kind of product to convince us we weren't getting everything we could out of music/life. However, its primary effect has been to level music's impact to a similar scale as any other commodity-- outside those few songs we cling to like family, most of it ends up being used as trade-bait, rep maintenance, decoration and garbage.

It's easy to blame this on the digital age, but then, it seems to have been going on longer than MP3s and file-sharing. Kids have been comparing and competing with record collections for as long as I can remember-- probably as long as my mom can remember, too-- but there must have been a time when our hallowed few songs were the only ones that mattered at all. Maybe during the days when people were more worried about war or disease or how they were going to eat in the winter; was it "folk music" they were hearing and singing? I imagine "entertainment" and "self-expression" weren't as valuable as functionality and therapeutic relevance in music.

Devendra Banhart's second full-length (and first of two planned 2004 releases), Rejoicing in the Hands, harkens back to a time before music had so many cultural roles. It's not necessarily an "old-fashioned" record, insofar as his performances or songs are concerned. Banhart's lyrics are as often seemingly nonsensical as they are evocative or descriptive, and his songs defy almost any conventional form you care to introduce. There are references to traditional American folk and blues, as well as hints of British acoustic folk along the lines of Fairport Convention, Bert Jansch and Banhart favorite Vashti Bunyan (who sings on the title track). However, for the most part, Rejoicing in the Hands is a record concerned with the absolute smallest things in life-- which usually end up being the most important-- helping pass the time when time is the only thing going anywhere. It's unconcerned with the past or the future, and is only too ready to supply songs you could sing after dinner or first thing in the morning. It seems valuable to hear something like "we have a choice, we chose rejoice" coming from a new CD, as if that was the only kind of value music was ever supposed to have.

Unlike Banhart's 2002 debut, Oh Me Oh My, Rejoicing in the Hands was professionally recorded, and a few tracks feature backing musicians (including Angels of Light alums Thor Harris, Joe McGinty and Siobahn Duffy). It's far from slick, though, reeking of rustic, homemade charm. Furthermore, it surpasses Oh Me Oh My in both songwriting and Banhart's singing. His songs no longer veer into bizarro cadences or witchy vocal overdubs; Young God's Michael Gira remarks that he didn't want to pigeonhole Banhart as a lo-fi eccentric, and consequently, the singer's range of expression (and surprising delicacy) is given full justice.

Opener "This Is the Way" sets forth the unhurried charge, confident in its own idiosyncrasy. Banhart's wordless count-off to his subtly accomplished fingerpicked guitar work betrays a casual ideal, even as couplets like, "I knew, I knew I could stand tall/ I could lay low," seem typically Banhartian in their benign whimsy. Likewise, the short guitar instrumental "Tit Smoking in the Temple of Artesan Mimicry" seems strangely familiar in its relaxed, uncomplicated feel, as Banhart's deceptively intricate lines cross one another like dueling minstrels on the road to nowhere. "Todo Los Dolores" even stops down as Banhart forgets the lyrics and has to begin again, much to the chagrin and amusement of a studio companion. If nothing else, Rejoicing in the Hands celebrates the informal and comfortable.

Other songs seem weightier. "When the Sun Shone on Vetiver" features Banhart accompanying his acoustic with angelic slide guitar, and a ghostly violin harmonizing his lead vocal. The midtempo, folky drone underneath his pseudo-psychedelic melodic vocal phrasing contributes to an unearthly ambience. "Will Is My Friend" features plaintive piano and double bass accompaniment, and comes off as a midnight country-blues lament for "Going Back to California". Closer "Autumn's Child" forgoes guitar almost entirely, featuring Banhart's quivering vocal over a soft, minor-chord piano dirge. Lines like, "She wanted to leave it, but she could not because it was her own child," sound melodramatic on the page, but over the course of song, seem almost offhandedly frank.

Rejoicing in the Hands establishes Banhart as a major voice in new folk music. Not only does it improve on the promise of his earlier releases; it effortlessly removes the listener from the context of the recording. That is, it doesn't seem like an album so much as a collection of road hymns and journals, and small tributes to smaller pleasures. If some people miss the appeal of this stuff in an attempt to digest it as any other product, all the better knowing Banhart will probably keep on rejoicing until forever.

-Dominique Leone, March 17, 2004


2/ 24/ 04 from:


Devendra Banhart
Rejoicing in the Hands
Young God Records

Devandra Banhart is an odd singer songwriter. In a time when more and more folk artists move into the electronic era, Banhart takes a purer approach to recording, adding few additional instruments and running with the strength of his songwriting and playing, and creating a strong, if minimalist, album.

On the first track, you are immediately struck by just how bare this album is. Not barren, just bare; his vocals stand stark and naked, approachable and familiar, as if being played through a tube wireless radio from the forties, with a vocal warble reminiscent of singers of the time. Not to be confused with annoying crooning, his vocals are both distinct and friendly; even at his darkest moments you get the impression he is smiling through it, and the album provides a similar inspiration in the listener.

Not to be outdone by his vocals, his guitar work rivals it in character and timelessness. With rhythms that seem as equally rooted in the works of Django Reinhardt as Simon and Garfunkle, Banhart successfully achieves a beautiful and powerful sound, with emotion, playfulness, and thematic prowess that will leave aspiring songwriters jealous and drooling. A beautiful, raw, and emotive release.

DEVENDRA BANHART BIO INFO (using excerpts from SF Weekly lead ARTS article)

Man of La Mantra /The psychedelic folk of wandering minstrel Devendra Banhart /By Garrett Kamps/SF WEEKLY/Jan 08.2003

“…Banhart was born in Texas in 1981, and named by an Indian mystic whom his parents followed. When his folks divorced two years later, he moved with his mom to Caracas , Venezuela , where he was raised amidst the shanties and sweatshops. Though his family had enough money to stay above the poverty line, life wasn't easy.

" Venezuela was insane," says Banhart. "You don't go out after 8 because it's too dangerous. You don't wear nice sneakers because, while here you may get assaulted, there you just get killed."

When Banhart's mother remarried, his stepfather moved the family to Los Angeles . In the fall of 1998, having written songs since he was 12, Banhart left home to begin school at the San Francisco Art Institute, with a hefty scholarship. Though he was instantly disillusioned with the constraints of academic art, his environs took him in more productive directions.

Living in the lower Castro, he was tapped by his roommates -- a gay couple whom Banhart refers to as "Bob the Crippled Comic and Jerry Elvis" -- to play two classic songs at their wedding: the gospel hymn "How Great Thou Art" and Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender." Touched by the request, Banhart found himself newly inspired.

Shortly thereafter, he had a second epiphany. While vacationing in Bish Bash Falls , a state park in Massachusetts , Banhart and his girlfriend were quarreling about the Rolling Stones.

"The argument was about [the song] 'Street Fighting Man,'" he says. "And I'm like, 'That's bullshit. Mick Jagger wasn't fighting nobody.' And she was like, 'Well, how do you know? Maybe they just made it up.' And I was like, 'Well, I can make up a song about something!' And it turned out to be this little song ..."

Banhart proceeds to sing, limerick-style: "There once was a man who really loved salt/ So he tied his nose to the sea/ And then God came down from his silver throne/ And said, 'Honey, that water ain't free.'"

"That's when I realized I could write about anything I wanted," he adds casually. "It was like being constipated and then taking a suppository."

Thus began Banhart's days as a wandering minstrel. When he returned to San Francisco , he began playing anywhere that would have him, be it an Ethiopian restaurant, an Irish pub, or Du Nord's weekly "Monday Night Hoot."

"We had to pretend like he was just helping us with equipment and then sneak him in," says Eric Shea, host of the "Hoot." "He was too young to get into the club."

In the summer of 2000, Banhart dropped out of art school and moved to Paris . There, he was discovered by the owner of a small club, who chose him to open shows for indie rock bands. All the while he was recording songs, both on a borrowed four-track and on a friend's answering machine.

Moving back to the United States in the fall, Banhart bounced between San Francisco and Los Angeles . At a gig at the Fold in L.A. , Banhart was doing a sound check when Siobhan Duffy overheard his set. A lover of old bluegrass and folk music, Duffy is also a close personal friend of Michael Gira, the one-time frontman for New York gloom-rock legends Swans and current owner of Young God Records.

"She couldn't believe it," says Gira of Duffy's reaction. "So [Banhart] gave her a CD-R, and I listened to it and had the same response. His voice is so unique, his songwriting is just amazing…"


released April 26, 2004

2004, Goldennegress Pub. (BMI)


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SWANS New York, New York

Swans are an experimental rock band formed in 1982 by Michael Gira. Initially part of the no wave scene, Swans have, through various iterations, contributed to the development of noise rock, post-punk, industrial, post-rock and more.


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