"I made enemies of those who might defend me."
This past Friday I purchased Vetiver's new album, Thing of the Past. First discovering them on Last.fm, they are an alt-country/folk band that I have grown to really appreciate. On a folk kick as of late, their song "I Know No Pardon" was the siren that lead me to their website; getting my first taste of their complete album (you can do the same at the link above). I was so engulfed in their sound and the reminiscent images it generated, I immediately began a review without even considering that the album might not be as original as thought.
After doing a bit more research this morning, I realized that Vetiver's album, Thing of the Past, is actually a set of cover versions of songs by some of band-leader, Andy Cabic's favorite artists. In no way, shape, or form should this bit of information discredit the quality of this album. Some people aren't crazy about cover albums, but if it's any consolation, I had no inclination that this was a cover album whatsoever. All I knew was that "Lon Chaney" was a cover of Garland Jeffrey's original, and this was only because I picked up this bit of information while browsing user comments on YouTube. The songs are from a period of 1967-1973, that have been largely forgotten, except by those who were avid vinyl collectors of this era Americana--my mother has a ridiculous vinyl collection, and actually knew some of these originals.
Below you will find a list of the album tracks, and the original composers in parenthesis. You can go here, if you'd like to read further about the original artists and these twelve particular songs, in comparison to Vetiver's tweaks and renditions.
- Houses (Elyse Weinberg)
- Roll On Babe (Derroll Adams)
- Sleep A Million Years (Dia Joyce)
- Hook & Ladder (Norman Greenbaum)
- To Baby (Biff Rose)
- Road to Ronderlin (Ian Matthews)
- Lon Chaney (Garland Jeffreys)
- Hurry On Sundown (Dave Brock, Hawkwind)
- The Swimming Song (Loudon Wainwright III)
- Blue Driver (Michael Hurley)
- Standin' (Townes Van Zandt)
- I Must Be In A Good Place Now (Bobby Charles)
Vetiver is a native grass from India. Vetiver is also "an American folk band headed by songwriter Andy Cabic and often joined by Devendra Banhart, cellist Alissa Anderson, drummer Otto Hauser, violin Carmen Biggers, guitarists Kevin Barker and Sanders Trippe, and bassist Brent Dunn" (thanks Wiki). The loose-wrist, acoustic strumming style is enough to captivate me in the first song, "Houses", and especially in the song "Hurry On Sundown", which really takes off at 1:23. Or maybe it's just me who is partial to this particular type of strumming with its Zeppelin (rulz!) undertones--like fingers effortlessly dancing on strings. I think that Vetiver must have been listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin’s (LZ) Physical Graffiti album because “Hurry On Sundown” has a distinct tone of LZ’s “Bron Yr Aur Stomp”. From the open-G tuning on the 12 string guitar to the 1930’s acoustic slide blues guitar style, whoever this particular guitarist is, he/she does their best Jimmy Page impression--and sucessfully pulls it off, I think.
"The Swimming Song" makes me feel like I'm at some country music festival with dust blown about and shirtless people in straw hats drinking moonshine and smoking hash. Either that or sitting down by the shad hole as someone fiddles with their banjo and blues mouth organ. Have you ever been to a bluegrass festival? I haven't, but I sure as hell can imagine myself being there and loving every fucking minute of it. "Blue Driver", and "Standin'" makes me want to stand up and dance; it's most reminiscent of my childhood too--hanging out at my "Aunt" and "Uncles" or having everyone at our house, adults gathered around the table with their dry red wine, stuffy Manhattans, Bloodied Marys, sassy mint juleps, classy gin and tonics, and Wild Turkey on the rocks. That's right... I can define the eras of my parents by the drinks they loved the most; bullshitting about old vinyls my mom has stored by the hundreds in the living room bookshelves, and razzing my dad for how many cigarettes he used to smoke back in college, even though he was second in state and potentially Olympic bound. My bro, cousin, Erin, and I on the other side of the sliding screen door, sprawled out on the hammock or the trampoline. Playing tag through the grape vines and getting yelled at, of course. Or feeding carrots to the neighbor pony, Sparky. It was a good life, those days. Maybe that's why I like this CD so damn much.
I'm crazy for acoustics, and multi-instrumental jambands--I'm all about getting down. I love a song that can dedicate a good first minute or so to some creative strumming. Give the guitar some credit--a good sounding piece can make or break a song, but so can the strummer, though a talented one can make almost anything play right. Nothing is exactly complicated in this album, but the instruments here are just right for what Vetiver wants to accomplish; just lose enough to make you want to lay in the grass and forget about life for a minute. There are harmonics/blues harps, simple snares and pucker whistling. Andy's voice is reminiscent of James Taylor at times, especially in "Roll on Babe", though I can also pull out a little Simon and Garfunkel, and the original alt-country band, The Byrds. Vetiver also does a cover of Garland Jeffreys, "Lon Chaney", which I am assuming is about the late and great Lon Chaney ("The Man of a Thousand Faces"), or his son (Jr.); both great American actors performing as somewhat grotesque and afflicted characters, like Lon Chaney's performance in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.
I admit, I'm not very good at wrapping reviews up, so find a piece of grass to twirl between your teeth, do a little doe-si-doe, and have yourself a merry little listen - http://www.vetiverse.com/mediaplayer/
Album Rating: 8.4
**Check out some of their original material from their previous album, To Find Me Gone; one of my favorites being, "Been So Long". You can also preview 4 of their songs from this album, on the Vetiver media player found at the link above.