Vashti BunyanVashti Bunyan
Album: Heartleap
Label: Fat Cat
Tracks: 10

The elusive yet legendary British singer-songwriter has returned to the recording stage after a gap of nine years since Lookaftering with a collection of new material of typically heartfelt but delicately expressed nature. Vashti has stated that this will definitely be her final album, but it doesn't seem that she's running short on inspiration if the generous ambience of these ten new compositions is anything to go by. Having said that, their limpid arrangements and gentle, whispered delivery can be deceptive, belying the depth of feeling therein.

There are times when it's all too beautiful (almost), when Vashti's fragile, wispy voice and unassumingly precisely-enunciated lyrics are only just managing to arise out of the equally tender yet well-considered instrumental textures conjured by her small coterie of trusted collaborators who include (principally) Fiona Brice and Gareth Dickson, with Andy Cabic, Gillon Cameron, Ian Burdge and others in tow, and primarily involving soft string and guitar timbres, chiming percussion like kalimba, understated synth tones, recorder and a measure of piano.

The overall impact is thoughtful and reflective, if a touch mono-shaded within its deliquescent, pastel colour palette. Perhaps the best result is obtained when specifically concentrating on the lyrics rather than allowing the whole picture to wash over your senses; in this respect, the enigmatic virtues of the lyrics of songs such as Mother, Fear and the floaty, breathy title song are revealed as simply meaningful poetry.

Vashti's notes to the songs display a disarming reticence about the stature of songs like The Boy, Shell and Blue Shed, all of which imply that she'd undergone a bit of a crisis of confidence before deciding to take these songs out and/or get them finished or arranged to her satisfaction; her decision to do so is another mark of her determination and sense of purpose, and an air of assurance in terms of direction tends to counter any apparent impression of diffidence that the gentility of her delivery betokens.

Vashti's music doesn't shout out at you or scream for attention - nor does it need to, for its charms are subtle as well as demanding: you just need to make that extra degree of concentrated effort.

David Kidman

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