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POP MUSIC REVIEW

For folk artist, it's another diamond day

September 11, 2006|Ann Powers | Times Staff Writer

Vashti Bunyan has said that she never sang to her children. That's a shame, because no one soothes with a lullaby more gracefully. A mother of three who has, in an unexpected comeback, become the goddess Freya of the current folk revival, Bunyan brought her gentle insights to the opening of the Getty Center's "Friday Nights" concert series in a brief but exquisite display of thoughtfulness and restraint.

The author of two idyllic song collections, recorded more than three decades apart, the London-born Bunyan spent most of her life raising kids and breeding horses in rural Scotland. Her newfound fame is a dream come true: "All I ever wanted was a road without end," she sang with conviction in "Wayward," her modest protest against the housewifery she practiced for so long. At age 60, Bunyan has become the heroine of a feminist fairy tale.

Bunyan's first album, the haute-hippie gem "Just Another Diamond Day," flopped upon release in 1970. That's not surprising. Bunyan's music blends introversion and frilliness in ways similar to her peer Nick Drake, and her firmly feminine aesthetic emerged before its time. Just a few years later, second-wave feminism gave "the mother arts" a new audience. The songs Bunyan offered at the Getty, with their ruminations on child rearing, long-term love and the changing seasons, could have been ripped from the pages of an early Margaret Atwood novel.

Last year she released "Lookaftering," an album close in spirit to her first but with a wiser edge. Some of her admirers played with her Friday: Bunyan's young five-piece ensemble treated Bunyan's self-contained compositions with care, following each other in gentle rounds that grew into airy chamber pop arrangements.

Bunyan's voice occasionally wavered, but she usually found her mark, entering into a flowing cadence that couldn't be called a groove but still seduced. Her fluty soprano, which carries very little vibrato, is an acquired taste -- like yarn art, it's awfully domestic. But Bunyan and her ensemble sustained a mood that, for those willing to enter in, came to glow. One composition, "Jog Along Bess," is a perfect children's song.

Too bad Bunyan never taught that one to her kids. She's getting another chance in that regard too: At the Getty, she announced that one of her sons would soon be a father. "My first grandchild," she announced, beaming. Dreams do come true.

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