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Vashti Bunyan - Heartleap

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 13 / 9 / 2014

Vashti Bunyan - Heartleap
Label: Fat Cat Records
Format: CD


Magical fourth album from rediscovered and now much acclaimed 60's folk cult icon, Vashti Bunyan

Vashti Bunyan’s back story has been told so many times it hardly needs repeating here. I’d rather direct newcomers to her music to a book by Jeanette Leech titled ‘Seasons They Change’ but briefly Vashti’s debut album, ‘Another Diamond Day’, was released in the latter part of 1970 and was almost totally ignored. The few who did hear it at the time thought it was a just another collection of, admittedly good, folk songs, but the album didn’t attract any real attention despite some major names (Joe Boyd, Robin Williamson, Dave Swarbrick, Simon Nicol, Mike Crowther) being involved. So, Vashti dropped out of the music business, and it wasn’t until the album was reissued in 2000 that people really started taking notice. With a new generation finally realising that there was so much more to Vashti’s music than the folk tag it had been given, the singer/songwriter, whose debut single in 1965 was a Jagger/Richards song produced by Andrew Loog Oldham, eventually cut her second album in 2005, the gorgeous ‘Lookaftering’. Given those early Stones connections and her folk leanings, it’s no surprise that back in the mid-sixties Vashti was compared to Marianne Faithfull but, as Faithfull’s vocals on her later work shed the innocence that attracted so many to her in the first place and was replaced by a voice that reflected her lifestyle, Vashti’s vocals on ‘Lookaftering’ were even more delicate than those she exposed on ‘Just Another Diamond Day’. The magic was still there in Vashti’s fragile vocal delivery and it was even more affecting. What was also surprising about ‘Lookaftering’ was that Vashti’s songs, although now championed by a new wave of folk artists, were even further removed from what is usually regarded as ‘folk music’. The pop element that fashioned Vashti’s early work was even more pronounced but it was also embellished with a contemporary sheen, and a kind of otherworldliness floated throughout the album. Vashti had taken inspiration from the music she had always heard in her head and developed her own unique sound. It was an astonishing and totally unexpected return. And now after another nine years Vashti releases her third album, ‘Heartleap’, although there was a collection of her early singles and demos issued in 2007 that is fascinating to say the least. Vashti’s timing couldn’t be better. With recent new albums by fellow 60's cult icons Bonnie Dobson and Linda Pheracs, the focus is more than ever on folk-inspired female singer/songwriters who were ignored at the time but who have built up a considerable following through the years. Then there’s Kate Bush and her first shows in 35 years receiving glowing reviews. While Bush never really embraced folk music like Vashti, there are parallels in the artists’ work. Both have a Donovan connection somewhere along the line, both have pushed boundaries in music (and continue to do so) and both are, decades after their initial forays into music, still making music that fascinates. And, of course, both artists have such distinctive voices. Vashti’s upcoming handful of October gigs will be far from the theatrical extravaganza that Bush is involved in, but you can be assured the end result will be the same for the audience. The ten songs on ‘Heartleap’ are probably the most personal Vashti has ever recorded, and the album includes some of her strongest songs to date. We can only hope that Vashti’s recent statement that ‘Heartleap’ will be her final album doesn’t come true. Although in many ways the album carries on from where ‘Lookaftering’ left off and the two albums, even visually, have a continuing theme, the feeling that Vashti knows that this time people are going to listen seems to have spurred her on to make the most satisfying album of her career. There are moments when you feel that Vashti’s vocals are so delicate, so fragile, that she isn’t going to make it to the end of the song. It’s fascinating listening to the songs develop and unfold; the instrumentation, which for the main part if I understand it correctly, was created at Vashti’s home in Edinburgh perfectly highlights the singer’s gossamer vocals. The background of real and synthesized music, as subtle as the vocals that float over it, reinforces the fact that although Vashti will forever be classed as a folk singer, there is so much more to her work than just that one genre. It has taken Vashti seven years to put this album together but there’s no indication of that as the songs gently flow into each other. Some of these songs are now seven years old, the latest was written just a few months ago, but yet they sound like they could have been written and recorded within days of each other. There is a sameness flowing through the songs, but each track does offer up something different; ‘Jellyfish’ is a dream set to music. The opening cut, ‘Across The Water’, does, without the use of sound effects, conjure up images of waves splashing along the shore. It feels like you’re eavesdropping on the obviously personal ‘Mother’, and the closing title song, ‘Heartleap’, is possibly, just possibly, where Vashti lays her innermost feelings out before the listener in a song. Again there’s that otherworldly, dream-like quality to the song which hangs heavily over the whole album. ‘Just Another Diamond Day’ is now heralded as a classic, but the listener can’t help but feel that ‘Heartleap’ is Vashti Bunyan, possibly for the first time, presenting her music the way she wants it to sound without others maybe taking a few diversions along the way. It’s certainly not going to take three decades before ‘Heartleap’ is declared a classic. ‘Heartleap’ isn’t really a set of ten songs; it’s a musical journey that deserves to be listened to from beginning to end in one sitting. Although the soundscapes that Vashti wraps her lyrics in are, at times, sparse, the sound Vashti produces just with guitar and synths, especially on songs such as the title track is truly breathtaking. ‘Heartleap’ is released by Fatcat Records on 6th October 2014 and, thankfully, apart from the CD version, is also available on heavyweight vinyl, Fatcat is also, via their website, offering an attractive bundle which includes a poster of the album artwork. So, no guesses as to where I’m heading right now...

Track Listing:-
1 Across the Water
2 Holy Smoke
3 Mother
4 Jellyfish
5 Shell
6 The Boy
7 Gunpowder
8 Blue Shed
9 Here
10 Heartleap

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Interview (2014)
Vashti Bunyan - Interview
Nicky Crewe speaks to 60's cult folk legend Vashti Bunyan about her fourth album, 'Heartleap'
Interview (2007)

live reviews

St Philip's Church, Manchester, 12/10/2014
Vashti Bunyan - St Philip's Church, Manchester, 12/10/2014
Nicky Crewe watches 60's singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan play an atmospheric and enthralling set at St Philip's Church in Manchester

digital downloads


Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind (2007)
Fascinating sprawling double CD collection of early singles, lost recordings and demos from 60's singer Vashti Bunyan, whose career has been after a gap of 35 years going through a massive resurgence since the rediscovery of 'Just Another Diamond Day', her 1970 debut album
Lookaftering (2005)

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Vashti Bunyan: Interview (2014
Vashti Bunyan - Interview
Nicky Crewe speaks to 60's cult folk legend Vashti Bunyan about her fourth album, 'Heartleap'

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