England - Full Moon 151 - 01/11/09
Oh yes. This album was released last autumn. But since the original recordings were made about 38 years ago, a few moonths delay doesn't seem to matter.
Some stars on the rock'n'roll sky have grown into legends because they died at about the right time. People like Jimi Hendrix, Nick Drake and Ian Curtis might've had problems to exceed what they had already achieved at the time they passed away. Especially the reputation of the latter two has grown immensely
after they went up-/downstairs for good. Sandy Denny belongs to another category; among those artists who died much too young. She might have continued to sing her repertoire of traditional British folk and self-penned songs for decades to come and grown into one of the greatest living legends. If she had had a little more self confidence, drunk a little less whiskey and hadn't fallen down that staircase in the spring of 1978...
Sandy left Fairport Convention by the end of 1969 after the release of Liege & Lief, probably the most groundbreaking and influential British folk-rock album ever. Bass player Ashley Hutchins left at the same time to start Steeleye Span and one of a kind guitarist Richard Thompson followed suit in early 1971
for a successful solo, duo etc. career. Fairport was never the innovative tour de force again although Sandy joined the band briefly in 1974-75 for a couple of tours, one live and one studio album and despite numerous line ups that have kept the Fairport ship afloat until this very day.
Together with boyfriend and husband to be, Australian guitarist and singer Trevor Lucas, Sandy started Fotheringay in early 1970. They were joined by Gerry Conway (drums, former bandmate of Lucas in Eclection), American guitarist extraordinaire Jerry Donahue and bassist Pat Donaldson. The band recorded one half
successful album simply called Fotheringay and toured successfully thereafter. They started the recording of a second album in November and December 1970. The recordings were shelved when Sandy early in the new year announced that she was going to pursue a solo career. Most of the recordings gained dust
on that shelf until 2007 when Jerry Donahue managed to persuade the other surviving members (Lucas died of a heart attack in 1989) that it was due time to continue the recordings.
The original 1970 tapes usually only included rhythm tracks and vocals recorded simultaneously. The latter were meant as guidelines and intended to be rerecorded. Since both lead vocalists had passed away decades before, the vocals had to be kept as they were. No need to worry. They seem so strong, sincere
and well recorded as can be. Except the last couple of lines of "Eppie Moray", sung by Sandy, that sound different and inferior recorded, somehow. "Wild Mountain Thyme" only included Sandy's voice and an acoustic guitar. Some discreet drums and acoustic instruments have been added and the song stands out as one of the
most beautiful of the lot. This goes for the entire album. The instruments added in 2007 and 2008 have been built up around the voices of Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas with respect, discretion and finesse. Exemplary!
A few of the songs have been released earlier. Sandy's "Late November", the most haunting ballad here, first appeared in a new version on her first solo album The North Star Grassman And The Ravens from 1971. The Fotheringay version sparser arranged, has also popped up on the two huge Sandy box compilations
Who Knows Were The Time Goes? (1985) and A Boxful Of Treasures (2007) along with a couple of other songs on 2. "Late November" has never sounded as sincere as on 2. A true classic! "John The Gun" also surfaced on The North Star... whereas "Knights On The Road" was recorded anew with Fairport Convention after Lucas and Donahue joined the band in 1973 (some called
them Fotheringay Convention or Fairport Confusion when Sandy also joined a little later). But the 11 songs of 2 have never appeared like this before and some of them never at all with these musicians.
The aforementioned ballads sung by Sandy stand out along with "Silver Threads And Golden Needles" (one of the traditional songs of the album) and "Two Weeks Last Summer" (by Dave Cousins of The Strawbs; Sandy had sung the song when she briefly joined Strawbs in 1967). They rank among her strongest efforts ever. Wonderful stuff! Her song "John The Gun", on the
other hand, proves she and Fotheringay could rock. Solid! I'm more skeptical about Lucas' predilection for American country music. I simply can stand c&w and "Knights On The Road" is hardy listenable. It would've suited The Eagles fine, one of the worst bands of this planet as far as I know. Dylan's "I Don't Believe You" does not sound much better, and Lucas' own "Restless" is only half acceptable.
However, "Eppie Moray" and "Bold Jack Donahue" (related to Jerry Donahue, I wonder?) make Trevor sound like a proud and strong British folk-rocker despite his origins down under.
Any album with new songs by Sandy Denny is of course most welcomed. When most of them are as strong as here, there is no need to hesitate, and two great out of five vocal contributions by her mate is a fine bonus. I haven't heard Fotheringay's first album for many years. If my memory serves me well, I think
2 works as a more cohesive entity after all with more delicate production. One of the greatest albums and surprises of 2008.
Copyright © 2009 JP