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Another great introduction album......
Listen Listen: An Introduction To Sandy Denny - Sandy Denny
Member Name: tomflint
Listen Listen: An Introduction To Sandy Denny - Sandy Denny
Advantages: Great vocals/songwriting
Disadvantages: May be too overwrought for some ears.
This is a review of the 1999 Island Records compilation.
Sandy Denny was one of England's finest ever female singer songwriters, her work is highly regarded by both big name rock stars of her day and today. It was interesting a while back on Jools Holland's show when Robert Plant and Alison Krauss were performing tracks from their duets album 'Raising Sand', in the interview section instead of showing footage of either Krauss or Plant, both had requested to see a clip of Sandy Denny from the BBC archives. I first heard of Sandy Denny probably when she was named as the only 'guest' performer to grace a Led Zeppelin album, she duets with Plant on '4' on the track 'The Battle of Evermore'. She also won Melody Maker 'Best Female Singer' in 1971 and 1972. So why is she largely unheard of and rarely spoken about today?. I don't have an answer to that question, she's certainly as good as her label mate and contemporary Nick Drake, who's music seems to be everywhere now.
This 'Island Introduction to'...... album goes some way to redressing the balance providing an excellent introduction to her 70s solo work which sadly only yielded 4 albums before her untimely death at just 31 in 1978.
The first 5 tracks here are taken from her debut album 'The North Star Grassman And The Ravens', her good friend and collaborator in Fairport Convention Richard Thompson provides all of the superb lead guitar work, she also gets help from various other folk rock leading lights and former Fairport members.
1. Late November
A brilliant and moody folk-rock ballad with some exceptional guitar playing from Richard Thompson. I love the way it takes the scales/style of tradtional folk music but is an original composition. Sandy has blended a very 'olde' sound with the contemporary 70s rock sound and created something pretty original.
A traditional English folk song, covered by many artists down the years, Sandy's version is pretty impressive this is the only 'cover' on this compilation which is clearly geared to show off Sandy's songwriting prowess.
3. Next Time Around
A great laid back ghostly vibe, some very fine Piano playing from Sandy, a great vocal. This is almost a kind of 'jazzy' performance, a fine use of an orchestrated string backing and some supportive acoustic guitar playing again from Richard Thompson. The strings build gradually during the song and the whole thing is done with a lot of passion and conviction.
4. Wretched Wilbur
A slightly more 'upbeat' track again with the string backing, which provides support rather than dominating proceedings. A short track but pleasant.
5. North Star Grassman And The Ravens
This is the beautiful title track from the debut album, I always used to listen to this on my Ipod when travelling back to the Isle Of Wight on the Ferry. There is the sound of the sea in the background throughout and the song has a haunting but calming vibe, perfect for relaxing the nerves of a jittery boat traveller!.
6. It'll Take a Long Time
This is the first of 4 tracks from the 'Sandy' album which was Sandy Denny's second solo release in 1972. The song has much more of a 'country' feel to it and some good Pedal Steel Guitar work from Pete Kleinow. While perhaps a bit more commercial sounding than some of the stuff off the first album, this still retains the essence of Sandy's sound
7. Listen Listen
Probably the most 'famous' single from her solo career [hence being the title of this compilation], its not my favourite, as it appears quite a contrived attempt to be a hit single. Probably would have sat nicely next to a Steeleye Span chart offering and was one of Tony Blackburn's 'songs of the week' in its day, probably a rather duboius accolade!. Pleasant but very 'middle of the road'.
8. The Lady
Another more obscure sounding track with the Piano and strings back in force, the vocal performance as ever cannot be faulted, a decent track.
9. The Music Weaver
A song written about Richard Thompson and her admiration for him as a musician. Richard Thompson doesn't play on this and was probably very embarassed by the whole thing, being generally quite a modest chap....
I think Sandy's third album 'Like An Old Fashioned Waltz' might be my favourite of hers. It's perhaps a bit of a guilty pleasure as many of the songs have a very overwrought sentimental orchestral backing, but the songs are gorgeous. This is the opening track from that album and even has a choir backing!.
11. Like An Old Fashioned Waltz
The title track is more sparsely backed with Sandy relying mostly on her voice and Piano playing, though the strings do take up the melody as the song progresses. I love the vocal on this one, some quite flowery bits in places like she's 'Doing a Whitney' or something!.
12. Dark The Night
Not one of the better tracks on the album this is still another great lush ballad with a quite funky organ solo in the middle by John 'Rabbit' Bundrick [now keyboard player with The Who].
13. No End
Sandy Denny doesn't really 'do' rock, so by track 13 of this compilation we are still in ballad territory. When you're THIS good at it though, who cares?, I like the bit where she lights a cigarette in the middle, this is the sort of track that would have someone blubbing in the right circumstances....
14. One Way Donkey Ride
In 1974 Sandy rejoined Fairport Convention for a year or so and recorded the 'Rising For The Moon' album. When she returned to her solo career in 1977 its fair to say that the music industry had changed a bit. Singer-songwriters were a bit 'old hat' and this sort of thing was far too 'soft' for most tastes. It's a shame because her last album 'Rendezvous' has some great moments, and 'One Way Donkey Ride' is a very decent bit of songwriting even if the strings are now making up for some shortcomings in Sandy's voice, which was taking the strain of her drink and drug habits.
15. I'm A Dreamer
Having said that about her voice, this is possibly the most impressive vocal on the album and shows her skills as a songwriter were still in fine fettle.
16. All Our Days
This is a bit longwinded and probably one of the few tracks that I would reach for the skip button on, there is no need for it to be well over 7 minutes in length, but it is more experimental than some of the other tracks on the album and has a Brass backing, making it sound quite 'film soundtrack' like. I was reminded of John Barry's Bond soundtracks in places. Can't say she wasn't trying to do something a bit different. I think a lot of people working today who use this kind of 'classical meets rock' melding [Rufus Wainwright is an example] were influenced by this kind of thing. Lush Baroque Pop in 1977 was never going to go down well.......heard now though I think it would get a more sympathetic hearing. It's still a bit too long though.....
17. No More Sad Refrains
A short romantic ballad which both closes this album and was the last song to be heard on record by Sandy Denny before her death a year later. The title is often used to name a compilation or Biography of Sandy Denny, but its a fairly average track in her impressive catalogue.
So there we go, if you don't like 'folk' music you may have an image in your mind of what this is before you've heard it, but if you like Singer-songwriters, you really need to listen to Sandy Denny, clearly a lot of people making music today have, I hear echoes of her stuff in lots of people's work from Kate Bush to Tori Amos to Regina Spektor.
Also check out the Sandy Denny fronted Fairport Convention it was there that she composed probably her most covered and well known song 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes?', along with interesting and well interpreted covers of both Bob Dylan's songs and traditional English folk songs. It's a great shame that she died when she did as it would have been great to see what kind of career she might have had.
I went on to buy the 4 solo albums as a result of getting this compliation, and if you like what you hear you may want to do the same. The good news is that Island Records remastered these in 2005 so at least the catalogue has been well preserved even if it is still under-appreciated. 'Listen Listen' can be bought cheaply on Amazon UK and is a perfect introduction to the music of Sandy Denny.
Summary: Give it a go