By Dennis Cook
Few things are instantly magical. Not much in this jaded age is fragrant enough to curl our toes and lead us off to parts unknown. Vetiver's sophomore album opens with an incantation that lulls us onward with a gentle hand. With notes rising like a small sun, bandleader Andy Cabic purrs, "I can't believe you're knocking. It's been so long, it's been so long, it's been so long." He's a workingman's muezzin calling us near on this quietly spectacular song cycle.
To Find Me Gone is easy to warm to but it may take time to realize just how terrific it is. It builds slowly until the full weight of it sinks into you. Step away for a couple weeks and you return to find the arrangements resonate more deeply, the lyrics slipping into your vernacular, the slow shifting mood charming you more each spin. Each track has just the right instrumentation, and the tunes are bloody indestructible – beautifully constructed jewels that sparkle in opalescent shades.
Vetiver's name comes from an East Indian relative to lemongrass used in manufacturing perfumes and hangings. Fittingly, there is an elusive connective strand that unifies everything here. There's the fragrance of John Martyn, pre-Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac, Stealers Wheel, and Mike Heron (Incredible String Band). Though known to many as Devendra Banhart's creative foil, Cabic creates his own unique vibe, a sound with no easy origin. Ancestors echo in these corridors but never drown out this emerging new voice.
Cabic's work is sticky with philosophical truths. Lines linger like "Your lips look new and they have things to say that I've never heard" or "What kind of heaven are these killers dying to win?" He sings in a voice with the universal sweetness of John Denver, James Taylor, and Badfinger's Pete Ham. There's also a pinch of Terry Reid's curiously angled phrasing, stimulating the sour bumps on our ear's tongue in a wakening way.
Despite being all originals, the songs feel like something handed down from singer to singer. "I Know No Pardon" is the kind of thing you'd hear John Prine playing on his front porch, explaining that he got it from Kris Kristofferson, who himself picked it up from an itinerant drifter named Ham Hock Jenkins. "You May Be Blue" is like a lost Canned Heat highway classic, the blues given mercurial freshness. There's a grand guitar squall in tail section of "Red Lantern Girls" followed (in their own internal logic) by the Merle Haggard-esque "Won't Be Me," where fab percussionist Otto Hauser (Espers) plays Sun Studio freight train snare. "Idle Ties" has a jug band ease, a perfect trundling ditty for daydreaming travelers.
In the past few months no other record has come up more on tour buses and backstage conversations. I take it to heart when musicians take notice. The admiration and enthusiasm of one's peers is perhaps the best barometer for the true quality of a piece. To Find Me Gone ushers in an unrushed freshness that permeates everything. With subtlety and great skill, it reminds us how great music can be. It's the kind of album the kids will still be discovering in 50 years, getting turned on anew, fueling their pastoral revels with grinning moxie.
JamBase | San Francisco
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