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The Devendra Detail

FEATHERS, ENTRANCE, JANA HUNTER, WHITE WHITE QUILT, ERIC ERNEST JOHNSON

at El Cid, July 18

Devendra Banhart, doyen of the current confluence that may loosely be called freak folk, curated five nights of mystic music and roughly related forms; the first presented varied examples of how a younger generation has re-approached sources such as Appalachian and English folk, Delta blues, avant-jazz, and the odd strain of, say, North African tribal music.

L.A.’s White White Quilt — one guy on supermodified wide-neck bass, another on Fender Rhodes, plus a whispery singer-guitarist — delivered fragments of song, building larger images upon constant hints and foreshadowings of the blues; two drummers locked in polyrhythmically to impressive effect. Much of what they did sounded like a variation on “Spoonful”; then, lo and behold, they did indeed pull out “Spoonful.” Very spare, a lot of tension.

Poet Eric Johnson’s intentionally masturbatory anti-poetry wasn’t quite Zen enough (not funny enough either). He came off like what they used to call a slacker, and seemed a bit out of place.

Entrance is the nom de guerre of nomadic guitarist-shouter-spiritualist Guy Blakeslee, a tall, skinny, raven-haired young man who sat on a stool and rough-picked, left-handed, on his heavily amped and upside-down-strung electric guitars; he made a kind of stop-start blues that conjured medieval plainsong and Spanish themes, but mainly all things Delta and primitivistic — he’s all about intuition and heart, obviously aiming for purity of expression à la his heroes Sandy Bull, Ali Farka Toure and Jimi Hendrix. He’s a terrible singer, but fascinating in his determination to transcend; fantastic guitarist, though, whose left-handedness produces a skewed way of thinking.

Jana Hunter strummed her electric quietly and sang matter-of-factly. “All the Best Wishes,” on her great album Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom on Banhart’s Gnomonsong label, sounds like a doo-wop weeper run through the Benedictines’ monastery PA, assertively distorted and the stuff of a thousand pleasant dreams. Onstage, her oddly themed songs were offered as brief sketches, often vaguely plaintive. She’s an amazingly eclectic vocal stylist, specializing in the smoky, fluttery vibrato of Annette Peacock.

Switching around on a wide variety of instruments and vocal parts, several Feathers got to take turns acting as front person. Maybe it was the three-quarter moon, but every highly arranged note and unusual melody hit home. The eight Feathers live communally in a big hut in the Vermont woods without cell phones or Internet or manager or booking agent; their freshness derives maybe from that and definitely from original combinations of musical styles, all folded into a fuzzy blanket that kept the enchanted cozy on a night of magical moonlight.

—John Payne


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