To their credit, they have every reason to believe it. At the two “peaks” of her career, singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan steeped herself in it. So, who’s to blame for repeating it over and over?
Critics and listeners frequently view singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan as a folk artist, and deservedly so. Her debut album, 1970’s Just Another Diamond Day, was produced by Joe Boyd, a producer often affiliated with U.K. “neo”-folk artists like Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band and Nick Drake; many of those artists also contributed to Bunyan’s record. Though she left the music industry for more than thirty years, her return coincided with the latest folk revival and was subsequently lauded by newbies like Beck and Joanna Newsom (who also appeared on Bunyan’s long-awaited second album, Lookaftering). However, the artist herself quickly counters the tag as a misperception. After all, a quick listen to her earliest material, now available thanks to the double-disc Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind, would dispel such convenient categorization.
Titled after her Jagger/Richards-penned debut single, Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind collects Bunyan’s earliest recordings and attempts to chart her development pre-Diamond Day. Though the material spans two discs, it totals less than an hour. The division is meant to distinguish two “periods” of her career: a disc of her first “professional” recordings with Decca (under the heavy pop hand of former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham) and Columbia Records in 1965 and 1966; and a bonus disc of her pre-music industry recordings, culled from her first studio session in 1964. Taken together, the compilation is a long-awaited essential for Bunyan’s fans, both old and new, and a fascinating look at an artist’s tentative first steps from beyond the wings of the stage.
The first disc has been a long-time coming, considering the sparse amount of material Bunyan has recorded. Spearheaded by her sparkling Oldham-produced singles, Bunyan’s singles for Decca are amazing time capsules of mid-’60s pop — ornate and opulent in every Spectorian way imaginable. Thundering drums and church bills ring about a stormy sea of strings, while Bunyan stands like a resolute isle and sings with a sea-green voice offering much-needed glimmers of tranquility (though she pines about love’s futility). The Columbia sides (“Train Song,” “Love Song” and “Winter is Blue”) are comparatively stark with spare arrangements of guitar, cello and voice, but the melodies remain resolutely wistful and Bunyan’s voice angelically taut. Some of this material (“Love Is Blue” and “I’d Like to Walk Around in Your Mind”) has already appeared on the reissued version of Just Another Diamond Day, but are fortunately buttressed with home recordings and demos from around and after this period. Intimate readings of “Winter Is Blue” and an early version of “Train Song” (“17 Pink Sugar Elephants”) are among the highlights.
The second disc is a welcome surprise for both Bunyan and the listener. Described by the artist as her first studio recording from 1964, the material captures her fresh from her New York trip and filled with “a heart full of musical ambition.” She sings in her familiar willowy wisp of a voice, lightly accompanied by guitar, and rolls through self-penned songs uninterrupted. As she writes in her brief liner notes, the material counters her frequent association with folk music by demonstrating her heavy pop leanings. In truth, her music is something altogether different. She often takes the form of bubblegum, swinging lightly on the happily skipping “Find My Heart Again,” yet reveals a stark outlook on relationships and a foreboding sense complexity completely unheard of for mass consumption. Like a junior Joni Mitchell, she deals with the heart’s heaviest matters but with a far lighter (and thereby accessible) hand. After all, what smitten teen, regardless of time, couldn’t sing along to “Don’t believe that love brings happiness/ Gone tomorrow, here today”? Taken together, Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind is a long-awaited essential for Bunyan’s fans, both old and new, and a fascinating look at an artist’s tentative first steps from beyond the wings of the stage.