Wild Mercury Sound

This week's Friend Of Devendra

John Mulvey

If you're American, brandish an acoustic guitar and look a bit feral, chances are your publicist will flog you as a close personal chum of Devendra Banhart.

It looks like a neat marketing trick: after all, Banhart's approval endows outsider credibility on an artist who might otherwise toil away as a mere singer-songwriter. The magical conversion from folksinger to acid-folkie, or freak-folkie, or whatever, is a hip and potentially lucrative one.

But cynicism aside, Banhart's amazing networking skills and largely infallible taste ensures that I always fall for it. Truth be told, though, Uncut already knew about this week's "long-time friend of Devendra" before her debut album turned up in the office.

Lavender Diamond is an LA group fronted by Becky Stark, who also boasts Jenny Lewis amongst her circle of intimates. Last year at the South By Southwest festival in Texas, I was so taken by the band that I ended up chasing across town to see them twice in two hours. Unlike some of Banhart's associates, Stark looks like a cross between a prom queen and a kindergarten music-and-movement teacher rather than some pagan survivalist.

Her brand of folk music is shinier and sweeter, too. In fact, Lavender Diamond's debut, "Imagine Our Love", might be the poppiest album to have emerged from the whole subculture yet; closer to Karen Carpenter than Joanna Newsom, perhaps.

And it's lovely. One of my favourite things last year was the "Forever Changing" box set of Elektra's golden years, though I did whinge slightly to its compiler (Mick Houghton, one of Uncut's own writers) that there was far too much Judy Collins on there. Evidently, she got to me by osmosis, since Becky Stark is definitely reminiscent of Collins - there's a similar kind of clarity and wholesomeness in the vocals - and yet I can't stop playing "Imagine Our Love".

Oh yeah, a link: Lavender Diamond's Myspace. A couple of very good sings from their current EP, "The Cavalry Of Light", here. Plus a blog in which Stark claims people in Nottingham have the brightest faces she's ever seen. Which speaking as a native, is not my general experience, but I'm still touched.


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