Monday, January 19, 2015

What's New?: 1.19.2015

Sandy Denny!
Sandy Denny — The North Star Grass Man and the Ravens (1971)

This was Sandy's first proper solo after affiliations with the Strawbs, Fairport Convention and Fotheringay, so she was a well-seasoned songwriter and performer by this point, making this a fairly accomplished-sounding debut.  There is a certain sound, a certain identifiable tempo and type of chord progression that is undeniably Sandy Denny's.  So, a song like the opener here 'Late November' seems vintage Denny.  There is just nothing else that can come close.  It's a slow, loping thing with impeccable vocal melodies and that's about about as far as I can get to really explaining what makes her so wonderful.  There was something about her that was just preoccupied with sheer beauty in song.  And, despite the occasional odd man out like the goofy bar blues 'Down In The Flood', she pursued this muse almost obsessively.  I think, in retrospect, this album has been underrated because of Sandy's previous work, but just imagine if this album came out of nowhere.  It would easily be hailed as a landmark. Key tracks: the achingly gorgeous 'Next Time Around' and the sea shanty-esque title track.

Fairport Convention — Rising for the Moon (1975)

Sandy returned to the fold of the Convention to dominate one album before returning to a solo career. It has a nice, roots rock sheen to the production, but Sandy completely steals the show with her compositions and you could make a darn fine EP with just her contributions. Side two is generally the stronger one here, mostly on the back of Sandy's spooky 'Dawn' and the closing epic 'One More Chance.'  As a moment of a band trying to recapture past brilliance again, it's a failure.  But, as a sideshow to more Sandy Denny music at a time when she was not really that prolific, it's indispensable.  It's a mixed bag, but there's certainly far worse Fairport albums from around the time.  Key tracks: Sandy's lovely country rock title track and the aforementioned 'Dawn.'

Sandy Denny — Sandy (1972)

Remember what I said about how she just seemed obsessed with making gorgeous music? The opening tune here is perhaps the definitive Sandy Denny tune and you can bet it'll make you weep when it hits you just right.  Not even the over the top synths can ruin this one.  Minors to major sevenths and back again, it's just about as win as you can get.  This one does get a bit of heavy handed production at times, but for the most part, it's scaled back and the songs are let to breathe.  The completely acapella overdub of 'The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood' is chill-inducing.  Any arguments as to why she's one of my favorite singers stops there.  A lot of dedicated fans call this her finest work and it's easy to see why.  I have my own favorites which I prefer over this one, but there's not many I'd rank above it.  Key tracks: 'It'll Take A Long Time', 'The Quite Joys of Brotherhood', the country rocker 'Tomorrow is a Long Time', and the haunting 'It Suits Me Well', amongst others.

Sandy Denny — Like An Old Fashioned Waltz (1974)

And how does she do it?  This is probably the slowest of Sandy's major works, but jeez do I love it.  It's just so achingly beautiful.  Just have a listen to the symphony-laden title track.  There's a willingness on the album to just go over the top, bring in the horn and string charts and just let it fly.  But it's all done tastefully, perhaps carefully so, so it plays like a soft rock album full of ballads, sure.  But some of the danged prettiest and resonating of the type you'll ever hear.  There's a bit of an old-timey music slant on a few of the tracks here and that just adds to the resonance of the whole thing.  It feels like Sandy was going for a big home run of an album, and while it doesn't quite reach some of the heights it's reaching for, what's here is more than good enough to make this one of her very best works.  Key tracks: 'Friends', 'At the End of the Day', and the closing beauty 'No End.'

Sandy Denny — Rendezvous (1977)

As a final statement from one of the most important artists of the 70's, yeah, it's a disappointment.  But when you just take it at face value for a roots rock record that she didn't intend to be her last, it's actually quite good.  If you want a big grand statement for a farewell, stop at Old Fashioned Waltz and just pretend this one doesn't exist.  But you're missing out, if you do.  Generally, if you're pressed for time, skip to side two.  Those are the songs with the least production, if that's what upsets you so (which being as the overproduction of side one seems to be most everyone's problem with this album; that is probably the case).  However, I cannot just simply overlook Sandy Denny originals, pedestrian as they may seem.  So, do I like the cover of 'Candle in the Wind'?  The answer is a resounding no, but I can honestly say that's the only thing I truly dislike about this album.  The overproduction is fine; no worse than any other roots rock albums of the time.  And the fact that she just refused to go full on disco pleases me as well.  Otherwise, yeah, it's all about side two: that's four top gear tunes no matter how you slice it.  Key tracks: the heartbreaking closer 'No More Sad Refrains.'  What a way to end a career.

Sandy Denny and the Strawbs — All Our Own Work (late 1960's)

Rewind back to before she was one of the best to ever do it and you get some nice late-60's, harmony-laden folk pop. Not much of Sandy's trademark sound is yet in place, but it's nice to hear her all the same. As this is billed and Sandy and the Strawbs, she doesn't sing lead on or even compose all of the material. But still, this music is of a time and place that is generally high calibre, so no complaints here (and it's top loaded with all of the Sandy material, so extra no complaints). There's a few flashes of where Sandy the godlike genius shines through, especially on the initial 'Who Knows Where the Time Goes.'  Generally, lots of acoustic strummin' and pedestrian lyrics.  But, listenable as heck, y'know.  Key tracks: all the ones where Sandy sings leads or composes.


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