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SHOW REVIEW: Vashti Bunyan
Halleluwah, a music, art and film festival -- Disjecta, September 1st and 2nd, 2006 (Portland, Oregon)

By: Scott D. Lewis

Vashti Bunyan is from another time and place.

Figuratively and literally.

The singer-songwriter released a stunning, unmistakably British folk album in 1970, then promptly vanished on journeys, landing in Ireland, raising her children, tending to assorted animals, and going about sundry domestic duties.

"Observer Music Monthly" named "Just Another Diamond Day," one of the top 100 British albums of all time and when neo-folkies such as Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom began singing her praises and having her sing on their records, her reputation and stature as an underground legend grew quickly.

After a 35 year break, she recorded her follow-up, "Lookaftering." While Bunyan?s roots remain in the Sandy Denny school (which we now know she certainly helped build) of seeing regional, rural musical traditions from the inside out, her newer songs are more melodic and flowing ? her tender voice only tightened a stitch by the years.

Bunyan?s midnight appearance, as headliner for the fledging, ambitious Halleluwah arts festival on Saturday, marked her first appearance, ever, in the U.S.

Which should have made it a rather special thing deserving of careful attention.

However, Disjecta?s upstairs is simply a blocky warehouse space, and the sad sound system was easily outdone by cars blaring down Burnside, sirens and one dreadfully determined car alarm.

On the plus side, some 200 arty, friendly and, well, sweaty, fans sat rapt on the scarred wooden floors and in a few flimsy metal chairs or stood in semicircle at the back, listening intently and being taken on a trip through time and space as Bunyan and her five piece trans-continental band doled out her delicate, lilting tunes of heartaches, longing and dreams.

Beginning with a new song, the questioning and hesitant "Hidden," Bunyan seemed both overjoyed and overwhelmed at performing live. Her voice was restrained and tense for a few songs, and her charming, understated introductions were mere whispers.

"Winter is Blue," written 40 years ago when Bunyan was "very young and very heartbroken," and only available on her debut?s reissue, haunted with its lovely cello passages and Bunyan?s peering voice that sounds like a wounded yet content, small bird.

But the real world just kept pushing its way in.

Curses to you Portlanders playing with your cell phones during the subdued show, and the one obtuse observer who had the gall to take a call during such a gorgeous moment should have been made to crawl out onto the streets.

"Where I Like to Stand," a collaboration born from her friendship with the painter John James, was like being transported to the gentle English countryside. Another song about heartbroken youth, "Love Song," was as sparse and hollow as a song could be, yet magically full, wondrous and satisfying.

"I like America," Bunyan said with a wide, humble smile as the crowd reacted with awed enthusiasm.

Hopefully she?ll be back and hopefully we?ll be a little bit more prepared and well, properly put together.

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