A significant influence on Devendra Banhart, British folk singer Vashti Bunyan recorded only one album before retiring from music and disappearing into obscurity in the 70s. Having enjoyed somewhat of a rediscovery in recent years – one that has led to collaborations with the likes of Animal Collective and Banhart himself – Bunyan has finally emerged with an overdue follow-up to 1969′s Just Another Diamond Day.
Amazingly, there is nothing in terms of age to distinguish Lookaftering from the amber hues of her once forgotten pastoral folk. In fact, Bunyan could have easily recorded her latest offering a decade or two even before then, such is the timeless quality to her breathy, quavering vocals and her cut-off-from-the-world presence. It feels as if little has changed from the cover of that cult release all those years ago: a woman clad in an apron and headdress stands in the doorway of a small thatched cottage, the elements of rural living clearly everywhere around her.
As a stripped-down, entirely acoustic album (with not so much as a single beat of percussion), it should come as no surprise that there is a repetitive essence to Lookaftering, the tracks never straying too far from each other melodically, but ambling along like a herd of sheep on the farm you can’t help but place her on.
There is a tender, ornate quality to everything Bunyan touches, but her shrill whisper often fails to be articulate enough to hear the lyrics clearly – something that the closing “Wayward Hum” proves by being a hummed, wordless piece that’s just as effective as its siblings. While the intricate layers of “Here Before” and the lonesome swoon of “Wayward” present themselves as highlights, each of the eleven tracks are equally representative of the dusty, antiquated fare Bunyan is revisiting.
There is an undeniable beauty and even a sense of purity to be found here, something that perhaps has only remained intact because Bunyan took a thirty year sabbatical to raise a family. The impressive list of guest stars that adorn the background scenes inconspicuously – Joanna Newsom, Robert Kirby (arranger for Nick Drake), Esper’s Otto Hauser, and Currituck County’s Kevin Barker among them – pays testament to the impact Bunyan has been having unbeknownst to her all these years. However, it’s quite likely that you would not be able to pick out these names amongst the chimes of recorders and glockenspiels, particularly if you’re stretching to differentiate these songs from each other. Ultimately, Lookaftering seems surprisingly unconcerned with doing everything it can to rest as a memorable work – something one would assume would be a priority to an artist who has been criminally over-looked in such a period of near-anonymous exile.
It’s been said many times that “The Velvet underground and Nico” only sold 100 copies when it was first released, but everyone who bought it started a band; the same could be suggested – in a folkie context, of course – about Just Another Diamond Day. While forgotten folksman Bill Fay made a similar return this year from the depths of nowhere to deliver more sounds from the bottom of a grandfather clock, Bunyan’s return is one that recreates those postcard-like images of falling snowflakes across acres of farm, miles from anywhere. The difference is that this time, a new generation will be listening.