When Devendra Banhart shows up dressed like Tiny Tim's Christmas tree with a beat-up guitar case in tow, it might seem like a clichéd acid-folk gag. His boho biography -- currently spreading across smarty music mags in an Exxon-Valdez-style ink spill -- might seem just as staid: the couch-surfing former art student turned adventuring troubadour who, at the wise old age of 21, fingerpicks a few mystical chords on his six-string and reinvents folk music's wheel. But when he opens his mouth and starts to sing, all cynical preconceptions dissolve.
Banhart, the wunderkind of San Francisco's indie folk scene, has the kind of traditional tenor that is unmistakable. His stylized songwriting -- perhaps best likened to the gnomish fairy tales of Tyrannosaurus Rex's Unicorn period -- has a nervy candor and can turn on a dime between misery and whimsy, humor and fury.
Banhart keeps good company with fellow Californian youngblood Joanna Newsom, a harpist who updates traditional Appalachian minstrelsy with a similar subscription to postmodern mysticism. Don't let the near-baby-talk of her delivery deceive; Newsom's heartfelt narratives are truly poetic.
This double bill evades "sounds like" classification at every turn. Except maybe for the fact that the duo sounds like the beginning of a refreshingly sincere revolution.