It's been nine years since Vashti Bunyan released her sophomore album, Lookaftering. When contrasted with the three and a half decades between it and her classic 1970 debut, Just Another Diamond Day, it seems like a blip. Bunyan has said in an interview that Heartleap will be her final album. That it sums up everything she has to say. For those who take in these tender, poignant songs about relationships (familial and interpersonal), life experiences, and reflections, this is sad news. Bunyan produced and edited Heartleap herself; this is a first. She plays the guitar well enough, but though piano appears throughout, Bunyan doesn't play the instrument. She carefully assembled these parts, from single notes. While her use of the synthesizer was discouraged and put aside on her last offering, here it unobtrusively sits with organic strings, guitars, piano, and an occasional recorder. Despite the intense focus and years of recording, and contributions from other artists sent from as far away as New York and Los Angeles, Heartleap flows dreamily from the outset. "Across the Water" contrasts notions of being emotionally stuck, then freeing herself to live a life of choice; Jo Mango's kalimba adds an earthy resonance. "Holy Smoke" -- with a subtle backing chorus from Devendra Banhart -- allows Gareth Dickson's ghostly, melodic electric guitar to support the airy yet determined vocal about refusing to allow grief and sorrow to claim the joy in one's life. "Mother," with its gently cascading, doubled piano lines and ghostly strings, is perhaps the set's most beautiful track, offering the memory of catching her own mother dancing, singing, and playing the piano in the precious few moments she had to herself apart from her daily duties. "Gunpowder" reflects on an at times complex communication in a continuing relationship with a former lover. The staggered and layered wordless harmonies that introduce "Here" are haunting; they underscore the quietly expressed but nonetheless real fear of abandonment articulated in its lyric. The closing title track is named for the cover illustration (Hart's Leap by her daughter, Whyn Lewis). Each line in the song begins with the word "heart." It takes in the entire cycle of love, joy, loss, grief, and the marks each leaves upon one as time passes. The melody, comprised of single piano notes and fingerpicked acoustic guitar, underscores a tome that feels captured in the moment. It's as if Bunyan wondered what might transpire once these words were sung. The recording is her witness. The entirety of Heartleap is wispy, spare, understated; moving in insight and honesty. But this song -- and the compassion and empathy with which it expresses the enormity of these emotions in the cycle of life -- is perhaps the most piercing and affirmative in the lot. If there has to be a final statement from Bunyan, this painstaking, sometimes hesitant, yet always brave and vulnerable one is not only fitting, but essential, summing her life's work to date.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek