Devendra Banhart: Ma (Nonesuch) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, October 14th, 2019  

Devendra Banhart

Ma

Nonesuch

Sep 18, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Mother Earth, mother land, and our maternal relationships—freak folkster Devendra Banhart returns with Ma deftly weaving through these various matrilineal permutations to reflect on current ills, with songs so effortless and pretty, they sooth and comfort. He sings three songs in his mother tongue, Spanish, out of helplessness, and to probably stand in solidarity with family in Venezuela, experiencing a humanitarian crisis. Banhart grew up in Caracas with his mother and stepfather. At 14, they moved to California where he learnt to speak English.

"Is this nice?/Do you like it?/Oooo..." he coos mellifluously on opener "Is This Nice?" as plucked strings twinkle like a lullaby. It plays like a lover's conversation until mid-song, when it reveals itself to be for a child bereft of their mother ("now that mommy's gone away"); reflecting on families at various borders forced to flee their homes.

The quirky "Kantori Ongaku" follows. Translated from Japanese to mean "country music," it is an homage to Haruomi Hosono, the Japanese pop legend who experimented with varying genres in his long career. It echoes the soft staccato of Aldous Harding's "Zoo Eyes;" with less drama and more whimsy. Yet, it stems from the same folk roots. Here pepped with boozy horns and sentiments that poke fun at our bandwidth for so much bad news. That inertia between endless outrage and ennui with lines such as "all the death in my house/makes it easy to shop online." For his part, Banhart tries to do what he can—a scrolling message during the video for "Kantori Ongaku" encourages viewers to donate to ilovevenezuela.org. He has also partnered with PLUS1 so that $1 from every ticket sold for his U.S. shows will go to World Central Kitchen, currently focused on feeding those at the Columbia-Venezuelan border. In Canada, funds will go to Rainbow Railroad to help the global LGBTQI community.

South American inflections pepper everything from lyrics to rhythms—never static. It takes you places. Imagine kicking off the espadrilles and dancing to the gentle joropo rhythms on "Abre Las Manos." "Love Song," with its swaying bossa nova, is the equivalent of a summer breeze on a palm tree-dotted beach. "Memorial" touches on the death of someone close as he sorts through old letters looking for evidence of their laugh; his Donovan-like vibrato used to good effect.

He hasn't lost his absurdist streak with the lyrical play on the pleasing "Taking a Page." "Ami" offers restorative words of solace. What a coup when he then closes with "Will I See You Tonight," a tender duet with folk legend Vashti Bunyan no less. Beautifully sweeping, unhurried strings are coupled with his whispered tones and gossamer Bunyan-Banhart harmonies making this a standout in an album with no shortage of heartfelt, melodious, Latin-flecked folk. (www.devendrabanhart.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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