Monday, March 19, 2007

Vashti Bunyan - Diamond Day + Lately

I'm going to start a new themed series with this entry. It'll feature artists who have been recording music for 10+ years, and all the songs featured need to have a bare minimum span of 10 years between them. I'll start this theme with one extreme case.. a 35 year stretch between the release date of a debut album and the follow-up. This would be Vashti Bunyan, a formerly obscure British folk singer who initially began making music in the late 60's. Her life is an amazing story, something I will attempt to summarize here. When visiting New York in 1963 she heard the Bob Dylan album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan Vashti decided to persue a career in music. Two years later she was discovered by the Rolling Stones' manager and was signed to Columbia records. They released her first single "Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind" which was originally written by the Stones. The single didn't do particularly well however, and as a result Vashti decided to take an 2-year journey via horse-drawn wagon to the Isle of Skye in order to find Donovan and the creative folk colony he was apparently setting up there. While on the way there she penned what would eventually become her 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day. In her words these songs were "a way of keeping the dream alive." However upon arrival to the colony she found that the majority of other attendees had already left and returned back to their city lives, and Donovan was nowhere to be seen, which to a degree crushed her dream of the perfect peaceful sanctuary she was hoping it would be. She left after a day to return back to London.
As the Columbia deal had by now fallen through, Vashti was one day approached by Joe Boyd (who was currently producing Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left) and told her he'd like to put out her album. She recorded Just Another Diamond with him, yet when the album was released it was a complete failure commercially. Vashti then left the music industry and moved to an island off of Ireland for a country life where she remained for the following 30 years raising her children and animals.

Around 2000 things in her life musically began to look up. One day she curiosly did an eBay search and was taken aback when she saw original copies being sold at prices reaching $200. The same year Just Another Diamond Day was re-issued on CD and met with amazing critical acclaim this time. Then in 2001 Devendra Banhart who at the time was unknown and struggling wrote Vashti a letter asking whether she felt he should continue music when it becomes increasingly difficult to survive off of it. The reinforcement Vashti provided him kept him in the business. She states "I wrote back to say that he shouldn’t call himself a little tick because anyone who could get up on a stage and sing their songs in front of people had my greatest admiration." When she got around to hearing his music and really enjoyed it, they met up and she recorded backing vocals for the title track on his 2004 record Rejoicing in the Hands. Soon after she also guested on Animal Collective's Prospect Hummer EP. After all the collaborations, Vashti finally decided to record a follow up album in 2005 entitled Lookingaftering which also featured Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, and Adem. The album was very well received and made its way onto many critic year end charts.
Vashti then embarked on her first ever U.S. tour and was most recently featured at David Byrne "Welcome to Dreamland" presentation.

Whew. Oh happy ending. To now enter with my own voice, Lookingaftering is really a fantastic record. Vashti's voice sounds just as gorgeous as it did in 1970. It's as if she was musically cryogenically frozen and finally emerged today to make her second statement. The two songs I chose are the openers from each album. I decided to choose it this way to make things easier, as both records are so consistently beautiful.

Vashti Bunyan - Diamond Day

"Just another diamond day
Just a blade of grass
Just another bale of hay
Hope the horses pass.

Just another field to plough
Just a grain of wheat
Just a sack of seed to sow
And the children eat.

Just another life to live
Just a word to say
Just another love to give
And a diamond day

Vashti Bunyan - Lately

"Never was much given to prayer
But lately I'm pleading with the air
To keep you safe from harm my dears

The only things that you should keep in rows
Are your perfect teeth - and the rest you know
It's own sweet way will always go

Add your footsteps to the wear
For a tiny deny in every stair
Will let them know that you've been there"

Homemade "Diamond Day" Video:

Vashti Bunyan - Just Another Diamond Day @
Vashti Bunyan - Lookingaftering @