Devendra Banhart News and Glowing Reviews

Currently on tour in Europe following the late September release on XL Recordings of his fifth full length album Devendra Banhart has a number of additional projects and releases happening as well.

*He contributes 2 songs, live performance of “At The Hop” and “Pardon My Heart” (a Neil Young song) to the iTunes exclusive Bridge School Benefit Collection, Vol. 3.

For the past 21 years, The Bridge School Concerts in Northern California are always an annual musical highlight. Hosted by Neil and Pegi Young every fall over the past two decades, many of the most inspiring artists performing today have appeared at these unique shows. The BridgeSchool and iTunes are proud to announce the release of Volume III of these live recordings, available exclusively on iTunes as of November 13th.

*Devendra also recently contributed an exclusive track, “There’s Always Something Happening” as part of a special iTunes charity mix put together with Natalie Portman and other artists from the independent music community. The mix, Big Change: Songs for FINCA, directly benefits microfinance organization FINCA International, which gives loans to people living on less than $2 a day in the developing world so they can start small businesses that will help them lift themselves and their families out of poverty. All net proceeds from the album, which costs $7.99 on iTunes, go to FINCA’s Village Banking programs around the globe.

Watch the Village Banking Campaign on MySpace (myspace.com/villagebanking) and Facebook to keep up-to-date on the album’s success – and the huge impact contributors are making together for the world’s poor. Visit villagebanking.org to learn more.

*From November 9, 2007 through December 15 DiverseWorks gallery in Houston is hosting the “Some Drawing” exhibition of some of his art work. Known mostly for his catalogue of folk music songs that some have described as “psychedelic,” Devendra Banhart is a San Francisco-based artist and musician whose small, fine-line ink drawings combine strange and sometimes beastly human and animal figures, ornamental framing devices, abstract symbols and bits of language to create oddly charming works that defy definition. Intimate and hypnotic, Banhart’s works on paper share affinities to Tantric diagrams and Indian narratives, giving rise to fantastic private worlds. Visit http://www.diverseworks.org//?pgid=3&subid=6&cid=36 for more information

Meanwhile, his SmokeyRollsDownThunderCanyon has been continuing to climb up national radio charts, reaching these positions last week:

#12 CMJ INDEPENDENT RADIO SELECT
#14 CMJ 200
#19 CMJ AAA
#21 CMJ RADIO SELECT

Finally – Howlin’ Wuelf Media has established an XML news feed cast. If you’d like to subscribe go to: http://www.howlinwuelf.com/html/news.asp

AND OF COURSE there’s still tons of adulatory press pouring out and here’s a further sampling:

Neo-folkie DEVENDRA BANHART appears to have embraced the California singer-songwriter legacy that runs thick through the Santa MonicaMountains and the canyons that dot an area folkies have used as an inspirational refuge from smog-infested LA. Recording in Topanga – the same canyon that Neil Young called home in the After the Gold Rush days, and the one where Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris have resided – Banhart has abandond the “freak” part of the “folk” tag he earned on his early albums. And his September 25 release, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (Beggars), promises to be him most accessible, buttoned-down disc to date. Matt Ashare/Boston Phoenix 9/12

Banhart’s voice still lilts like Caetano Veloso’s, quavers like Billie Holiday’s, hiccups like Marc Bolan’s. But on Smokey, Banhart leaps through a hazy maze of samba, son and dub. He’s got big epics (“Seahorse”), Spanish rock-outs (“Carmensita”) and a Jamaican Jewish wedding song (“Shabop Shalom”) that’ll make you plotz it’s so funny. Lyrically Banhart jumps around, too – from past to future tense and from Jamaican patois to Portuguese slang.

Trying to pin the man down for a normal interview is a bit like trying to send him a postcard. By the time your message arrives, he’s already somewhere else. Banhart was on the phone in Detroit when I got a hold of him. What follows are bits from our happily rambling conversation, the points we stayed on the longest. Everything else just wandered.

1. “I’m 15 minutes away from the New Orleans from where I recorded lots of Oh Me Oh My…,” figures Banhart, contemplating his own musical evolution. Neither of us pays attention to the fact that Detroit is a whole lot farther from NoLa than that. “All that’s changed is me – the location within and without me.” No matter where he lived, Banhart insists, he would’ve made Smokey now. It just wouldn’t have had the flavors, details and textural nuances that make it Californian. “If I lived in New Orleans, I could say I smelled fucking gator nuggets as opposed to the stealth macrobiotic cake being baked nearby or the Pacific Ocean breeze.”

2. “Freely” is the straightest, most uncomplicated of Smokey’s slow songs. It came from the height of hopefulness and from the low of hopelessness, according to Banhart – “the very moment those things intertwined. I saw something ahead and I saw something behind that was keeping me back.” Then he laughs. “I had to have a New Age hit in there, naw’msayin’?”

3. Earlier in the day, the Sex Pistols announce they’ll reunite for the 30th anniversary of Never Mind the Bollocks. Banhart’s only 26, but he had some skate-punk days in his youth. Now he’s making this gorgeous psych music, but he says punk is a life, not a fashion. “Energy opposed to a fucking hairstyle.” In 2002, Banhart was homeless. “That record came from my own fucked-up world and my own fucked-up headspace. Smokey hasn’t lost that. But now we’ll get fucked up, start playing and press the record button to get that energy.” That’s how Smokey’s spikiest tune “Tonada Yanomaminista” came about. “I hope the record isn’t that boring that it’s lost all that energy of mine.”

4. Also, in accordance with his mentioning his pals, his best friend/opening act Matteah Baim, is very punk. “She’s my Patti and my Nico rolled into one. And she’s made the best record in the last 10 years, The Death of the Sun.” He calls her one of the most powerful artists he’s ever witnessed. And for him the words “punk” and “power” are interchangeable.

5. Oh Me Oh My… was a solitary thing compared to Smokey’s communal energy and camaraderie. But even in 2002, Banhart was collaborating. “It wasn’t just me. I was collaborating with cars, the wind, the moment,” he says. You can even hear a shooting on OhMe. “There’s an actual murder on ‘Cosmos and Demos.’ I was in Paris on Bastille Day. I remember watching this guy cock a gun and go in shooting.” Despite Smokey’s sessions often turning partylike, it was a more controlled environment than OhMe. “It didn’t exclude the trees, leaves, dogs and raccoons.” A.D. Amorosi/Philadelphia City Paper 9/26

Backstory: As the patriarch and primary pitchman for “freak-folk” (a label he shuns), Devendra Banhart has helped resuscitate the careers of old-school folkies like Vashti Bunyan, Michael Hurley and Karen Dalton. But Banhart’s own shape-shifting music remains the most appealing (and eccentric) act in the whole widespread circus that has sprung up around him.
Why you should care: Banhart seemed critically bulletproof in his early years, but has morphed into more of a polarizing figure as both his sound and his profile have expanded. “SmokeyRollsDownThunderCanyon” won’t change that. Banhart’s fifth album finds him gleefully and sometimes irreverently barging into genres that would ordinarily have no place alongside one another.
Verdict: Such an unchecked adventurous streak will inevitably lead to some fizzled experiments when stretched across 16 tracks, but “Smokey Rolls” serves up multiple gems. It’s a testament to Banhart that it’s difficult to imagine anyone else making this album; he’s operating in his own space, whether on the gospel-drenched “Saved,” the rambling Doorsy epic “Seahorse” or the dumbly hilarious doo-wop of “Shabop Shalom.” Despite its unwieldy name, “Tonada Yanomaminista” provides the best entry point-a rousing, galloping and relatively straightforward rocker.
X-Factor: The pleasant, unobtrusive voice providing backing harmonies on “Cristobal” belongs to actor extraordinaire Gael Garcia Bernal-the sort of hip cameo that makes it seem like Banhart is just showing off his entourage. Adam McKibbin/Metromix.com

Devendra Banhart deserves a lot of the credit – or blame – for the so-called freak folk movement. His 2002 album, Oh Me Oh My, established him as a quavering-voiced, idiosyncratic talent adept at conveying childlike wonder, and he has used his influence to promote artists from the past (such as Vashti Bunyan) and the present (Joanna Newsom). His new album, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, finds him dabbling in gospel, psychedelia, ’50s-style shoo-be-doo harmonies, and chicken-scratch funk amid more familiar acoustic ditties. .- Steve Klinge/Philadelphia Inquirer 9/28

Devendra Banhart: One could argue he’s been celebrated more for the concept than the realization, as a throwback to the kozmic folk daze of the 1960s and ’70s. But Banhart’s new album offers consistently more appeal and depth, stronger songs and textures as he branches out with a little bit of soul, South American and tropical island flavors. Jon Takiff/Philadelphia Daily News 9/28

He is the great gadfly of the modern music world. Appearing in more fashion rags and tabloids (probably due to the “newsworthiness” of his freakish couture walking side-by-side with high profile Hollywood friends, lovers and neighbors) than music magazines, he gives the recently revitalized “freak folk” genre a worse reputation than it already had (thanks mostly to the Fugs). And he has never even released a folk record (though he plays an acoustic guitar), let alone anything that should be classified as “freak folk” (however, I doubt he would or could deny being a “freak”).

Love him or hate him, he has done many great things for music (besides his own writing and recording). Together with Andy Cabic (Vetiver), he runs Gnomonsong, which has proven time and time again to be a safe haven for new and intriguing music (Rio En Medio, Jana Hunter, Feathers). Most importantly, Vashti Bunyan (also reviewed in this issue of the LAJ) probably would have never come out of her 35-year retirement to record Lookaftering (2006) if it were not for his relentless nagging and prodding.

The shimmering tape buzz that took his stunning 2002 debut Oh Me Oh My The Way The Day Goes By The Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs Of The Christmas Spirit on the psychedelic lo-fi highway is long past gone (coincidentally, I was introduced to Oh Me Oh My. by a past king of the lo-fi movement – John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats). Increasingly obvious with each release, culminating with his fourth (2006’s Cripple Crow) and now on his fifth full length (Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon), wait for it.Devendra Banhart is discovering the endless possibilities of multi track studio recording. Yet, despite the inherent knob turning, Banhart has remained remarkably consistent in keeping a live and immediate feel to his recordings. Most importantly, his compositional and lyrical skills have done nothing but benefit from his maturity in the studio.

. then “Seahorse” kicks in. Holy shit! At a running time just shy of eight minutes, it is a beast to deal with but well worth the time and effort. This, this is where Smokey truly begins.

From the fateful “Seahorse” on, Banhart takes the listener on a roller-coaster ride. Inconsistent (meant in the most complimentary manner) would be a massive understatement. Smokey is all over the freaking map (literally, with influences checking in from as many genres and nations as there are songs). There are songs worth loving (the freaky, funky “Lover”) and songs well worth hating. It is impossible to tell whether Banhart is serious or joking.

Was Zappa showing off his mad compositional skills when he made Freak Out or was it a clever and witty critique on a vast array of music genres or was it just a joke? I feel the same way with Banhart’s Smokey. Is this genius (seriously!) or madness or is he just fucking with us? Don Simpson/Los Angeles Journal 10/10

Author: James McQuiston

Ph.D. in Political Science, Kent State University. I have been the editor at NeuFutur / neufutur.com since I was 15. Looking for new staff members all the time; email me if you are interested. Thanks!

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