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Thing of the Past 

Album by Vetiver
Gnomonsong

When The Band released Music From the Big Pink in 1968, the record was a revelation, a watershed, especially among fellow musicians and singer-songwriters across the globe. It was a new type of Americana — one that embraced a lost songbook of American folk, blues, rock and country and reinterpreted them (even though most of the band was from Canada). Songs executed by The Band sounded old and new simultaneously. Vetiver’s new offering, Thing of the Past, is a tasteful, eccentric and engaging collection of obscure (or lesser-known) covers that creates a musical treasure hunt. The band that leader, guitarist and singer Andy Cabic formed for this recording had already been on the road together, serving double duty as a backup band for former Jayhawk Gary Louris, while also performing as the supporting act. Under Cabic’s helm, the sound created on Thing of the Past is cohesive, delicate, confident, diverse and warm.

The record, which features songs primarily written in the late 1960s and early ’70s, opens with a beautiful rendition of Elyse Weinberg’s 1968 “Houses.” Weinberg had left her native Toronto for Los Angeles in the ’60s, emigrating with fellow Canadians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. The song is a modern (and feminist) statement of Weinberg’s independence that still resonates today. The sound is warm and clear, from the introductory acoustic guitar chords to the bass and drum parts falling in, with Cabic’s gentle vocals floating on top, while the electric guitar riff completes a slow-rising grandeur. From this point, the listener knows he is in for a treat.

Following on its heels is a version of Portland folksinger Derroll Adams’ “Roll On Babe,” which was recorded by Ronnie Lane for his first solo effort in 1974, served up in a Lane-like arrangement (think of Lane’s “Debris” and “Richmond” when he was with the Faces). It’s deceptively breezy, but the texture is finely layered with acoustic guitars, bass, snare and percussion. This is to the credit of the current Vetiver lineup: Kevin Baker and Sanders Trippe on guitars, Brent Dunn on bass, Otto Hauser on drums, “Farmer” Dave Scher on pedal steel and keyboards and Jason Quever on piano.

Other highlights on the record include Norman “Spirit in the Sky” Greenbaum’s “Hook & Ladder,” Hawkwind’s 1970 “Hurry On Sundown,” maverick folksinger Michael Hurley’s song “Blue Driver” (with Hurley himself filling in on backup vocals) and a sublime rendition of Bobby Charles’ “I Must Be In A Good Place Now.” The Charles song comes from his 1972 solo record, Bobby Charles, which was co-produced by The Band’s Rick Danko (and also features a majority of The Band’s members). Sadly, the record is currently out of print in the U.S. “I Must Be in a Good Place Now” is executed and presented in a simple, pared-down arrangement, allowing the beauty of the song to come across. In other words, Vetiver serves the song. Robert Charles Guidry had written a number of hits in the mid-1950s, including “Walking to New Orleans” and “See You Later, Alligator.” And just as Danko attempted to give a wider exposure to Bobby Charles and his songwriting, Cabic is trying to draw more attention to these gems and songwriters of the past that have flown under the ever-expansive radar of the Internet era.

Covering Paul Conrad Rose III’s 1969 “To Baby,” Cabic sings, “Baby, the thing that I most fear/ in a changing world, I saw you disappear.” With the release of Thing of the Past, Andy Cabic and Vetiver dispel that fear (at least for now), while giving credibility to the adage that one must understand and acknowledge one’s cultural past in order to move properly into the future.

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Mark Shikuma

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