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Album Review: Vetiver – Thing of the Past

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Since their debut album in 2004, Vetiver has definitely been keeping busy. Whether on tour or opening for and collaborating with Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, the San Francisco based band has taken quite the musical journey. However, in 2008, singer/songwriter Andy Cabic decided that he wanted to take Vetiver in a new direction for their third studio album. And so, Thing of the Past was created.

The appropriately titled album was created as a tribute to all the songwriters Cabic felt were most influential to his life and music. Covering a lot of oldies, Cabic and company run through tunes by Loudon Wainwright III and Norman Greenbaum (surprisingly not ‘Spirit in the Sky’). And to top it off, they got several of the original songwriters to appear as guests on their respective songs, including Vashti Bunyan and Michael Hurley.

This vital new cover album features all the classic songs from our favorite beardy folk musicians, from super famous (Townes Van Zandt) to just plain out there (Garland Jeffrey). Thing of the Past is full of spirited performances and definitely shows us their extreme passion and respect for the original sources. The weird thing is that Vetiver really didn’t stray too far from home with this cover album. The rock quintet has been known to draw from folk, psychedelic and country in the past, so their decision to draw from the music block of “1967-1973” isn’t really that alarming. In fact, it’s obvious that Vetiver was not aiming to tamper with their roots even a little on this record. So if you were hoping for a shocker like Johnny Cash covering NIN, you are just plain out of luck.

Cabic’s lovely voice is nice on the ears and his lullaby vibe is perfect for shifting from a backing vocalist in “Sleep a Million Years” to a lead role in “To Baby.” The majority of the album is very peaceful and melancholy with its acoustic instrumentation and slower tempos. But then we are struck with “Hurry on Sundown” two-thirds of the way in, which definitely kicks things up a notch. Here the music shifts to a bluesy jam band sound which keeps you on your toes for the next few minutes. We aren’t left waiting too long because “Blue Driver” is sure to follow shortly after, bringing home a honky-tonk like sound that makes me really want to hit the road and drive out west.

Vetiver also manages to keep a pretty tight leash on the bands interpretive liberties on the album. In the few places you’ll find some interesting cuts, (like the quirky banjo in “The Swimming Song”) they go almost completely unnoticed because they basically are carbon copies of the original recordings themselves. Actually you got to give Cabic some serious credit for this because I don’t know about you but a lot of time when bands cover their all time favorites they often end up ruining the song for me. (Does anyone remember when Creed covered “Riders on the Storm”?) Yikes!

Through and through, Thing of the Past is a perfectly pleasant and well-produced album that provides a version of Vetiver which fans unofficially kind of already knew. I found it to be pretty impressive myself, but at the same time they didn’t exactly tightrope now did they?

Oh and on an interesting side note the band is named after a kind of grass native to India. I don’t know why, but I find that to be pretty groovy.

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Things of the Past is out now on Gnomonsong Records

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