English folk-singer Vashti Bunyan has enjoyed a unique career trajectory, starting when she recorded a Jagger-Richards composition in the mid-1960s. Her early singles failed to gain much attention, and Bunyan instead travelled by horse and cart to join a commune in the Hebrides. On the journey, she wrote the songs for her debut Just Another Diamond Day, which she released in 1970 under the guidance of Joe Boyd. The album sold poorly and Bunyan retired from the music business to concentrate on raising her children.
Some thirty years later, Just Another Diamond Day had gained a following, becoming a highly prized LP and garnering a new generation of followers like Devendra Barnhart and Adem. The album was re-released on CD in 2000, and Bunyan resumed her recording career with 2005’s Lookaftering. In 2014, she released Heartleap, which she’s indicated will be her final LP, meaning she’s only recorded three albums over a 44-year recording career, making perfectionists like Peter Gabriel and The Blue Nile look prolific in comparison.
But despite her limited output, Bunyan’s catalogue is worth exploring. Just Another Diamond Day has a twee, naïve beauty, while her 21st-century output is surprisingly strong, mixing elegant arrangements with economical writing.
Vashti Bunyan Album Reviews
Favourite Album: Just Another Diamond Day
Just Another Diamond Day
Vashti Bunyan recorded a couple of unsuccessful singles in the mid-1960s. When these failed to meet with success, she was dropped from her record label by Andrew Loog Oldham. She travelled through Scotland in a horse and cart, and during this time she composed the songs for Just Another Diamond Day. The album was produced by Joe Boyd, and it includes folk-rock fixtures like Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol from Fairport Convention, Nick Drake’s string arranger Robert Kirby, and Robin Williamson.
Just Another Diamond Day is comparable to Nick Drake’s work, but while Drake’s work is often gloomy and pessimistic, Bunyan’s work is twee and charming. The songs are about the things that Bunyan observed on her journey, like ‘Glow Worms’ and ‘Lily Pond’, and the songs are full of innocence and beauty. Bunyan’s voice is mild and pretty, and the arrangements are also gentle and charming, adding up to a beautiful period piece that’s full of enchantment and wonder.
Famously, Just Another Diamond Day only sold a few hundred copies, and Bunyan left the music industry. In the meantime, her only album had become a sought after treasure, and it was re-released on CD in 2000 and allowed Bunyan to record two further albums in the 21st century.
After a 35 year hiatus in her recording career, Vashti Bunyan returned to the recording studio for her follow-up to 1970’s Just Another Diamond Day. Impressively, while Lookaftering retains the innocent, wistful essence of Bunyan’s music, it’s different in feel than Just Another Diamond Day – that album carried the feel of a young, starry-eyed hippie in 1970, while Lookaftering is the elegant sequel from an older, wiser woman. While it’s similar in tone to Diamond Day, with no drums and pretty woodwinds, the dominant instrument is often producer Max Richter’s classy piano.
The most memorable song is ‘Hidden’, with its pretty melody and Richter’s pretty piano. But Bunyan’s writing is solid throughout the disc, and Richter’s arrangements are excellent at adding melodic colour without dragging the album into mushy adult contemporary territory. The next generation of avant-folk musicians, inspired by Bunyan, like Joanna Newsom and Devendra Barnhart, also contribute to Lookaftering.
Lookaftering is an incredibly worthwhile follow-up album from an artist who probably wasn’t expecting the chance to ever make another record.
Upon its release, Vashti Bunyan stated that her third album, Heartleap, would be the last of her fifty-year recording career. As always with Bunyan, the arrangements are stripped back and elegant, although there’s more acoustic guitar on Heartleap than on her previous album. Bunyan made an effort to take more control of the album-making process than before, and she contributes guitar and piano parts, as well as having the producer credit, saying that she wanted to “learn a way that would enable me to record the music that is in my head, by myself.”
Heartleap is pretty and fragile; Bunyan’s always been an artist who maintains a consistent mood on her albums, and I find that these individual songs stick in my mind less than on her previous projects. That’s not to say there aren’t distinctive songs – ‘Shell’ is delicate and beautiful, ‘Blue Shed’ has pretty piano work from Bunyan – but more than ever Heartleap works as a mood piece more than a collection of individual songs.
Heartleap is the least striking of Vashti Bunyan’s three albums, but any addition to her meagre discography is a treasure.
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