Vashti Bunyan, grandma of whispering folk, has had a wonderful resurgence in the independent music world over the past twenty years. The British singer made her debut in the 60s and early 70s with her album Just another diamond day and off-album singles like “Train Song” and “Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind” written by Mick Jagger/Keith Richards. But, believing she had no promise of success, she took a decades-long hiatus from music. Vashti returned to public consciousness when she was cited as an influence on the “freak folk” movement of the early 2000s by artists like Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. In 2004, she released Prospect Hummera collaborative EP with animal collective, which led to her signing with Fat Cat Records. She then released Guardinghis first album in 35 years, in 2005 and Some things stick in your minda compilation of early singles and demos, in 2007.
It wasn’t the end of Bunyan’s career ending – the documentary Vashti Bunyan: From Here to Before was released in 2008, and another new album, heart jumpwhich she says would be her last, followed in 2014. She has also continued to collaborate with independent artists over the years, appearing on albums by Devendra Banhart, Vetiver, The Avalanchesand Mercury Rev.
Other artists also continue to sing his praises, often in the form of covers, as recently as one this year from Cassandra Jenkins, who released one of the best albums of the last year. It’s just one of many greats to come out over the years, and to celebrate Vashti’s impact, we’ve put together a list of 10 Vashti Bunyan covers from artists we love. Here they are…
Lush – “I’d like to walk through your mind”
British dream-pop meets folk in Lush’s cover of a VB classic. Lead vocalist Miki Berenyi and the band as a whole set a sweet tone through vocals, ringing guitars, and a crystal-clear harmonica solo at the end.
Mutual Benefit – “Jog Along Bess”
Mutual Benefit, the project of multi-instrumentalist Jordan Lee, has released an album spanning all of Just another diamond day via Turntable Kitchen in 2019. Her rendition of “Jog Along Bess” is a beautiful, buzzy fusion of Vashti’s folk spirit (especially in the lyrics and guitar) and Jordan’s ambient psychedelia that complements the background.
Feist & Ben Gibbard – “Train Song”
Feist and Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard swapped verses for “Train Song” in 2009 for the beloved indie compilation Dark was the night. The two singers sing in rich harmony on an acoustic guitar for a surprisingly bluesy sound.
King Dude – “Train Song”
“Train Song” hardly sounded darker than when King Dude covered it in 2021 for his album Beware of darkness, a collection of B-sides, demos and rarities. King Dude’s vocals are so full, even with heavy reverb on the chorus, that you almost forget there’s guitar in the song as well. It’s a radical departure from Vashti Bunyan’s mousy falsetto, but a success nonetheless.
Mates of State – “17 Pink Sugar Elephants”
Minimalist pop duo Mates of State released a cover of “17 Pink Sugar Elephants” on Crushes (The Covers Mixtape) in 2010. The sound is more orchestral, with the duo’s characteristic blend of piano and percussion with light strings and a small child singing on the last chorus. The fantasy world the song creates through lyrics alone really suits the playful sound of Mates of State.
Saint Etienne – “The same but different”
Vocally, Saint Etienne’s cover of “The Same But Different” remains very faithful to the whispered style of Vashti Bunyan. The British trio’s marimba adds intrigue to the simple song, taken from Vashti’s 2005 LP Guarding.
Fever Ray – “Here Before”
“Here Before” appears as one of two bonus tracks from Fever Ray’s 2009 self-titled debut album. only to be listened to again and again. This take on the Guarding is a perfect example of Vashti Bunyan as a lasting influence on indie and alternative artists, with a sound that is as versatile as it is iconic.
Cassandra Jenkins – “It’s You”
For this year’s compilation blanket of blankets, Cassandra Jenkins lends her vision of Animal Collective/Vashti Bunyan’s song “It’s You”. The tenderness and clarity of her voice are a beautiful foil to the luxuriant accompaniment of the harp. The result is a deeply listenable song.
Beck – “Winter is Blue”
The only live recorded cover on this list, Beck has performed a simple guitar and mandolin arrangement of Bunyan’s “Winter Is Blue” from his debut album at least twice live, including in 2011 in Napa, California. Her vocals bring a special sense of nostalgia to the seasonal song.
Headless Hero – “Here Before”
In 2008, the Alela Diana-led by the supergroup Headless Heroes The silence of love, a cover album featuring renditions of songs by Linda Perhacs, Daniel Johnston, Nick Cave, Jackson C. Frank, and more, plus Vashti Bunyan’s “Here Before.” It’s a cinematic take, with the atmospheric orchestration of Dirty Pretty Strings emphasizing Alela’s resonant vocals.