I began listening to the band and album entitled Vetiver with great interest as I am a big fan of Devendra Banhart’s new album, Rejoicing in the Hands, and he happens to be a member of this new psych-folk supergroup. Banhart featured a song on his own album called “When the Sun Shone on Vetiver”, and whether he meant the actual type of grass or the group, or both, is unclear. Banhart is barely noticeable on the album, except as an obvious songwriting contributor to the psychedelic, bordering on silly “Amour Fou”, and the Spanish language “Los Pajaros del Rio.” He also provides a second guitar in most of the tracks.
Other star members of Vetiver include Colm O’Ciosoig, the drummer from My Bloody Valentine, guesting on the tracks “Luna Sea” and “On a Nerve”, and Hope Sandoval, silken voiced crooner from Mazzy Star, who provides backup vocals on “Angels’ Share”. Alissa Anderson is the magnificent cellist and Jim Gaylord the violinist who round out the group which started as a trio with Cabic and the latter two musicians. Thom Monahan of the Pernice Brothers produced the album which I was hoping would be similar to the warbling troubadour Banhart.
Instead of finding another Banhart release under a pseudonym, what I found was a great voice and guitar player in frontman and founder Andy Cabic, formerly of the Raymond Brake on the Simple Machines label. His San Francisco cum Virginia folk sound (is there a San Francisco folk sound?) is rooted in guitar and strings. Now that Vetiver grass actually grows in California, one can at least picture Cabic lying in said grass in the early hours of the morning with the fog rolling in, strumming his guitar and wondering why there are buffalo in Golden Gate Park.
It is worth noting, however, that unlike many of Vetiver’s peers there is not a banjo to be heard on the album. The two guitars of Cabic and Banhart take center stage while the cello and violin provide a quiet backdrop tinged with sadness. Whereas Banhart’s release was ‘old-timey’ in nature, meaning twenties or thirties style folk, Vetiver’s release is more like folk from the late sixties and early seventies. One can hear similarities to more than a few particular famous folk artists, but the difference will be on the strength of the songs themselves. Vetiver contains a few songs that are immediately memorable in the two co-written by Banhart. The rest of the tracks are well written, played, and sung, but overall do not leave a lasting impression. The album, like Bill Murray’s tumbler of Suntory, is for relaxing times. These are songs to listen to as you read the paper in the morning with your cup of coffee, or to lie in the grass on a hillside in a park watching kites chase and dodge each other against a clear blue sky. In other words, this is a situation specific album.