FAME Review: Vashti Bunyan - Heartleap
Vashti Bunyan - Heartleap


Vashti Bunyan


Available from Amazon.com.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Music in and of itself may well be a Heartleap, but the business side can absolutely turn its fickle head from you, no matter what and no matter who you and your compeers are. Zappa called it the "filthiest business on Earth". On the other hand, your music may well be ahead of its time, and thus consumers will pass it by until later generations, and that's exactly what happened to Vashti Bunyan (Jennifer Vashti Bunyan), who consorted with the famous back in the halcyon days, recorded a couple of singles in '65 and '66, then put out a LP in 1970 which featured members of Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band…and was orchestrated by Robert Kirby, most famous for his labors with Nick Drake. That LP, Just another Diamond Day was warmly critically accepted but failed to attract an audience. Bunyan threw her hands up, traveled a bit, and then spent 30 years mainly raising her children and everything that goes with that Herculean task.

Come more than three decades later, and Diamond Day became a very sought-after disc going for as much as $2000 on E-Bay. Bunyan hadn't a clue about any of it, but Devendra Banhart got hold of a copy from a friend, wrote Bunyan, asking for advice, and this led to her re-emergence. T-Mobile then used a song from the LP, and so did Reebok. Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it…well, if you wait too damned long, actually. At 69 years old, though, Vashti is calling it quits, and this CD is her swan song.

'Delicate' is the first adjective that comes to mind as Heartleap opens, reflecting the graceful iconic leaping deer on the cover painting (by Whyn Lewis, Bunyan's daughter). Then we have 'wistful', 'evanescent', 'ethereal', and other descriptives. It is, however, now that we have YouTube and the ability to hear her debut without forking over two grand, VERY much in line with Diamond Day. Astonishingly, very little has changed in either composition or delivery. That old gem is, though, one of the airiest albums I've ever heard, much more so than Drake or Donovan, and that may well account for its being tut-tutted by the public in its day. It and this disc's materials are by no means common.

Oddly, I suspect what's paved the way for Bunyan's pronounced mellifluity's modern acceptance is the film world, which has been instrumental in re-conditioning people to appreciate understatement (think upon the soundtrack to Jaws, and you have a great opening example) alongside all the crashbang—not, um, that I want to analogue Vashti's embroideries with rampaging sharks and mayhem, so perhaps Steve Tibbetts' brilliantly quiet Northern Song would be the better correllative. In bowing out, she has tackled most all duties in Heartleap except the work of the accompanying sessioneers, who include Gareth Dickson and Banhart. Regardless, her art was unique nearly 40 years ago and remains so today, so much so that trying to embody it in words would be something of a hopeless task. I suggest that you, like Banhart, experience it directly and see why Devendra was so struck by it.

Track List:

  • Across the Water
  • Holy Smoke
  • Mother
  • Jellyfish
  • Shell
  • The Boy
  • Gunpowder
  • Blue Shed
  • Here
  • Heartleap
All songs written by Vashti Bunyan.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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