Twenty-three-year-old Devendra Banhart's been busy lately. His third and most recent album, Niño Rojo, is the companion to last spring's sublime Rejoicing in the Hands. At once fantastical, intimate, and sparse, Niño Rojo is a logical outgrowth of the soft-spoken troubadour's sensitive palette. Clocking in at just over three-quarters of an hour, these 16 songs celebrate the natural world and ponder the mystique of interpersonal relationships. A shortsighted investigation of his work suggests some tree-hugging, neo-hippie tendencies -- easily reinforced by his shaggy appearance and acoustic plucking -- but Banhart is more than this. At times, his sound alludes to the '60s utopian visions of John Lennon and the Mamas & the Papas, as well as to Ma Rainey and the early blues. His quivering warble reflects a silkworm-like talent, as though these songs were spun with a singular gossamer thread continually harvested from his throat. The lyricism and sincerity of Niño Rojo emanate naturally from their maker, as if they were just another organ in his body, functioning as unconsciously as the heart pumps blood. "Not everyone can relate to what you and I appreciate," Banhart sings, and for a moment, we feel enlightened, knowing that we get it. -- Kelly Schindler
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