It’s not often you come across an artist you can genuinely refer to as a “cult legend,” but Vashti Bunyan is truly that. A full thirty-five years after her only previous album, the singer returns with a new solo work, her first in all these years, and it is a breathtakingly beautiful album.Now based in Edinburgh, Bunyan’s story tells of the thwarted promise of early fame, disenchantment, long-term exile and eventual rediscovery. In the mid-’60s, after quitting art school to concentrate on music, she was discovered by The Rolling Stones’ guru, Andrew Loog Oldham, signed to Decca and recorded a single written by Jagger / Richards. Reviews touted her as “the new Marianne Faithfull” or the “female Bob Dylan” (though she claimed to be neither), yet further singles remained unreleased, leading to despair and a rejection of the music industry. After living under canvas in the bushes behind Ravensbourne College of Art, she bought a horse and cart and set off in 1968 with her boyfriend for the dream of a creative colony that singer Donovan was setting up on the Isle of Skye. It took nearly two long years to get there, by which time Donovan had left, but the experience formed the songs for Just Another Diamond Day, the album recorded by Joe Boyd in1969 that featured members of The Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention. On the album’s muted release, rather than hang around London to promote the record, Bunyan left the city again to live with the ISB in the Scottish Borders, and then (with horses, wagons, dogs and children) on to Ireland and obscurity. The record slipped out in a tiny pressing and was rapidly forgotten, yet gradually over the years accrued a cultish currency as a lost English classic. In the late ’90s, typing her own name into an internet search engine, Bunyan became aware of this interest, and after tracking down the masters and rights, JADD was re-released — almost thirty years after she had “abandoned it and music forever” — to huge critical acclaim (The Observer Music Monthly placed it at 53 in their Top 100 British albums). A host of young, new admirers emerged citing her influence, and Bunyan has since recorded with Piano Magic, The Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde, Devendra Banhart, and Animal Collective. Following the success of the JADD reissue, DiCristina is honored that Bunyan has also agreed to license her new album, Lookaftering.Far from some kind of appendage tacked onto the end of an amazing story and a past classic, Lookaftering is a fully beautiful album in its own right. Produced by fellow Edinburgh resident Max Richter (who has a wonderful solo album of his own, Blue Notebooks), and co-arranged with Bunyan, it’s a rich, beautifully arranged and stirring album. Developing gradually and organically — with work initially taking place between Richter and Bunyan’s homes, and then at various studios in Edinburgh, London and Glasgow — Lookaftering is anchored around Bunyan’s voice and picked acoustic guitar, and Richter’s piano playing and arranging. Its instrumentation includes a string quartet, oboe, harp, French horn, recorder, flute, hammer dulcimer, glasses, harmonium, and Rhodes piano, and it features contributions from Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, Adem, Adam Pierce (Mice Parade), Robert Kirby (Nick Drake), Otto Hauser and Kevin Barker (Espers, Currituck County)As well as a neat balance between gentle, sparse songs and heavier, more orchestrated numbers, there is a beautiful play between the lush instrumental arrangements and the incredibly intimate, in-your-ear presence of Bunyan’s voice. There’s a real honesty to the album — from the fragile intimacy of the vocal itself to the stories that it weaves. Just as JADD was a very pure document of a journey, Lookaftering is similarly based on stories taken directly from lived experience (the death of a brother; the joys and fears of motherhood; the tension between freedom and commitment; and travel versus domesticity). There’s also a great integrity forged from the cohesiveness between lyrical content and musical form (the gentle rolling and pitching of the melodies on “Same But Different”; the vocal roundelay on “‘Here Before”; the ice-shiver of dulcimer on “Turning Backs”). The album title itself, a personal neologism that describes the role of “taking care of someone — human or animal — or even something that needs to be done, that needs lookaftering.”Lookaftering is being released on DiCristina in North America, and on FatCat everywhere else.