Thing of the Past is a quirky, lovingly considered covers album, unearthing long lost gems and also-ran album tracks. The band wraps these songs affectionately in warm arrangements of guitars, banjo, strings and voices. Yet though the album is worthy on its own terms, it is maybe even more interesting as a hint at how Vetiver has evolved. Or, more precisely, how the band shrugged off the free folk prettiness of the self-titled debut for the far richer, more inclusive vibe of To Find Me Gone. It was, apparently, all in the records they were listening to.
For instance, consider "Road To Rondelin," the Ian Matthews cover. Matthews recorded this song for Matthews Southern Comfort in 1970. Matthews was in the process of becoming a pop songwriter. He had just broken from Fairport Convention, because its rigid all-folk focus didn't give him enough scope for original songwriting. It is not hard to see parallels with Andy Cabic's own career, beginning right at the center of the freak folk universe (next to Devendra) and journeyed outward towards pop. And even if that's a stretch, the song is nearly perfect for him, his cool, wistful voice slipping effortlessly into Matthews' melodies. They have almost the same timbre, the two of them, the same gentle unforcedness, and the song blossoms again in its new setting.
The other great cover here is "Lon Chaney," originally sung by Garland Jeffreys for his long out-of-print solo debut. Haunted and haunting, the cut starts in churchy, pensive piano notes and evocative verses about the 30s film star, climaxing quietly, mournfully and beautifully in high keening and discordant surges of strings.
In the less familiar songs, Vetiver sounds almost quintessentially Vetiver-ish, its tangled acoustic guitar lines punctuated by big clashing cymbals, its rhythms slow but rollicking, big flourishes of piano allowed to echo then still into silence. There's a guest appearance from Vashti Bunyan, another folk icon who insists she was always a pop star, in the sweet textured "Sleep a Million Years." Here Bunyan's clean soprano cuts gently through a web of piano and snare patter, all clear-eyed 1960s pop except for the warmth of country pedal steel.
There is, by the way, a good deal of country and blues on hand, starting with the banjo shuffle of "Roll On Babe," a track by 1960s protest artist Derroll Adams, and running through the whistled and sung-along choruses of "Hook and Ladder," and into the chugging groove of Michael Hurley's "Blue Driver." "Hurry On Sundown," the first single ever released by Hawkwind, evolves out of an almost Takoma-esque finger-picked introduction before gaining speed and roisterous harmonica. You start to recognize these roots-based influences as the key ingredient that pulled Vetiver out of its fairy bower after the debut and grounded them firmly in the warm, real world for To Find Me Gone. • Jennifer Kelly
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