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Vashti Bunyan - Lookaftering CD (album) cover

LOOKAFTERING

Vashti Bunyan

 

Prog Folk

4.02 | 4 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart join Vashti on her follow-up

Vashti Bunyan is a wonderful artist but not a prolific one. As previously noted in my review of her debut, she comes with a very cool backstory. Discovered by the Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham she had a brief pop career in swinging London before pulling one of the most authentic disappearing acts since Obi-Wan. Her and her partner Robert hitched a cart to a horse and headed for the rural Scottish coast, taking two years to get there.

"It was two summers travelling from London with the horse - and the worst of the winter between spent in the Lake District. No other way could I have learned about life the way I did. Living outside most of the time - cooking on fires on the ground, washing in rivers and burns, walking miles everyday and watching the landscape slowly change through industrial and rural England to the moorlands and highlands of Scotland."

She then returned to London one more time and quickly recorded a legendary album called "Just Another Diamond Day" before casting music aside and splitting for good. For almost three decades the pair and their kids lived a 19th century bucolic existence (see my review of the debut if you want to read more about that period). Then, after relocating to Edinburgh and separating from Robert, Vashti went online and discovered that her long lost album from 1970 had struck a chord with many people and was being traded for big bucks by collectors. Roundabout 2000 she was able to see "Diamond Day" reissued on CD, and the overwhelmingly positive response made her start writing again for the first time in three decades. As a new generation of "acid folkies" was beginning to emerge, Bunyan became something of an icon to new artists like Devendra Banhart, Animal Collective, and Joanna Newsom, all of whom have become friends of Bunyan. Banhart and Newsom even appear as guests on this album. And so the unimaginable happened....35 years after the young Vashti released "Just Another Diamond Day", she followed it up with her second album in 2005, entitled "Lookaftering."

"My life changed radically 13 years ago when I moved from the farm where my eldest children grew up and came back to the city with my youngest. I left behind the Diamond Day dream in a way. I think I don't regret it---but then when I listen to the songs I hear that I do miss that old life. Only enough to write about it---not to go back to it."

The music of "Lookaftering" is every bit as engrossing as "Diamond Day" and I just fall into her world. Soothing, relaxing, and comforting is her music, even when the lyrical themes are not so sunny. Bunyan's voice is so clear and unchanged it sounds as if she recorded this album right after her debut. There has been no deterioration of her voice whatsoever. And once again the songs are ethereal and enchanting as an Elvin-spun tale. The differences however are important. First, the lyrics are more serious and mature, the dreamy girl of "Diamond Day" replaced by a wiser woman. Second, the songs are much more meticulously tended by Vashti herself and given great depth by the keyboard contribution of Max Richter. On the debut she sang and played, then turned over the arrangements to the capable Joe Boyd before heading back to the farm for good. The results were great but she would say that Boyd made instrumental choices she would not have. That is not the case here. Here she is very involved and the music is more fleshed out and fully realized. Last, she has always disavowed being categorized as a folk singer, especially a traditional one, and today considers herself an alternative artist, not a folkie. That may be a minor distinction to many people but it is important to Bunyan.

The first two tracks discuss children, keeping them safe, celebrating them, to the sound of Bunyan's ever-present acoustic and a string section, along with glockenspiel and harmonium giving a sort of "wide-eyed" wonder to the sound. Banhart adds a bit of down-home guitar to "Wayward" as she proclaims "all I ever wanted was a road without end." Piano and recorder adorn the stately "Hidden", framing Bunyan's intimate yearnings so nicely. "Against the Sky" features Joanna Newsom on harp and is a real highlight. The harp is beautiful working with Vashti's guitar and some mellotron, while the lyrics just blow my mind with their mysterious beauty. I'm not much of a lyrics guy typically but man I love these words. "Turning backs" again features the piano and mellotron of Max Richter and some dulcimer, more hairs standing on end here. Newsom and Richter combine harp and keys again on "If I Were", a short, sad piece about two people parting ways. "Brother" would appear to be an ode to her late brother John, where she talks of returning to their childhood home, and how it is strange that everything is the same except he's not there. That hits home. "Feet of Clay" is perhaps the album's most impressive arrangement, with Richter's repeating piano motif giving Vashti's verses a sense of time passing, as strings swell up behind them, and a bit of oboe and French horn are carefully placed. Amazingly poignant. The album closes with a lovely intimate moment, a recording of Vashti rehearsing "Wayward" while just humming, unaware they were recording her. It's the perfect closer to this collection and brings us full circle, sounding almost like an outtake of "Diamond Day." The simple drawings and photographs in the booklet are also fantastic, so much more meaningful to me than most of the homogeneous "prog-rock art" that all looks the same on so many new releases.

"Because I'm loving what I'm doing right now so much, I'm beginning to realise what an idiot I was all these years by turning my back on music. I just really, really wish all these wonderful people had been around when "Diamond Day" was made. They would have understood what I was trying to do much better than most of my contemporaries ever did."

An admitted Vashti fanboy, I consider "Lookaftering" nearly the masterpiece of "Diamond Day." In fact, those who consider "Diamond Day" a bit too gentle and precious may find "Lookaftering" a bit more grounded and substantive. The debut has a magical story and looks forward to a life ahead, while this one is a gorgeous reflection back on the beauty and fragility of life. Together they are fascinating bookends of Bunyan and two of my most treasured discs. If you ever read this Vashti, thank you so much. (and please, record another album!)

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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