Melody Maker review – Rendezvous

Sandy pulls it off.

This is the album we have been waiting for since Sandy left Fairport for the second time at the end of 1975. Over six months ago there were rumours that she had produced something rather remarkable, but as the months went by and a projected tour failed to materialise, one began to wonder if the happily pregnant lady wasn’t about to settle down to domesticity for a while.

There’s no question that it’s a remarkably powerful album. The opening chords of the first song, Richard Thompson’s ‘I Wish I Was A Fool For You’, crash out from the speakers like a Mahler symphony, and at times that gorgeous voice is all but swamped by the arrangements. There is some nice guitar on the play-out of this opening track, which may perhaps be Thompson, though it sounds a bit like Jerry Donahue; both musicians are credited with playing on the album, but there is no track-by-track listing of who plays on what.

Second track is Sandy’s own ‘Gold Dust’, a song which is slightly reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, not merely in the funky sweep of its melody, but also in its subject matter. Then comes Elton and Bernie’s ‘Candle In The Wind’, which is a bit of a mistake, I feel. Not only is nothing much new done with it to justify its inclusion, but in just a few places Sandy’s pitching is not as certain as it might be – a surprising fault in such a technician.

We are back with Sandy’s own compositions with ‘Take Me Away’, and ‘One Way Donkey Ride’, which close the first side. The first is one of those stop-rhythm blues waltzes (the progenitor of which, I suppose, was Ketty Lester’s ‘Love Letters’) with another fine guitar solo, which has to be Donahue. This could make a good single. Donkey is the first time, however, that we hear the authentic, immediately recognisable Sandy: shifting, allusive lyrics, whose exact meaning always seems to be slightly to one side of understanding, but which nevertheless touches a responsive chord in any hearer with an element of sensitivity, sung convincingly, accompanied unobtrusively. A vintage Denny song; immediately recognisable.

As side two opens, it seems as if Sandy is, for the first time on this album, at least finding the ingredients to write in this distinctive mould without sacrificing commercial appeal. There is nothing hard to fathom about this song, ‘I’m A Dreamer’, which is clearly autobiographical. The melody is strong, and the strong arrangement not so overpowering as some of the rest. ‘All Our Days’ is entirely Sandy’s work. She has composed an almost classical, free-ranging melody that taxes her vocal talents to the very fullest, and Harry Robertson has given her an arrangement in the same vein, which showcases both voice and melody superbly. This is a tour de force by any standards, and Sandy pulls it off.

It is followed, in a superb stroke of inspired programming, by that good old sentimental country standard, ‘Silver Threads And Golden Needles’. The pleasure this track engenders in the listener continues to rise with the last song, ‘No More Sad Refrains’, which is what it sounds like, a lyrical, up-mood ballad about putting hard times behind you. This song, for my money, is what I would have liked to have had much more of on this album, which, for all its individual pleasurable moments, doesn’t really hang together as a total artifact. Though it’s enough to have Sandy back on the turntable again, the album isn’t quite the break-through that rumour had led me to expect.

Perhaps that’s all the good, because Sandy has always been at her best when she has been uniquely, undeniably herself. There are enough moments like this to make this an album worth treasuring, even if it isn’t the greatest thing she has ever done.

Sandy Denny at The Howff

THE AUDIENCE looks a little warmer, younger and hairier tonight than the customary Howff fringe-theatre crowd who usually yap in cultured Hampstead tones through musical ‘turns’. But tonight the whole evening has been set aside for paying respects to Sandy Denny as she returns to do her first London club gig since longer than most can remember.

The lucky ones get seats: the rest stand – and it’s only 8.15. The music press, Guardian and Telegraph are piling up the empty wine bottles, whilst Al Stewart, Carolanne Pegg and the Gandalph-bearded Viv Stanshall can be seen hovering in and out of the bar.

At last – here’s Sandy – looking succulent in a long green figure-hugging flower print. A measure of nervousness escapes in her slightly paranoid/Cockney humour but she settles down at the Steinway hired at £50 – hence the entry price of a quid a nob). Then her eyes close, her face turns up to the light and she’s into ‘Late November’.

The audience are so completely with her that she has them from the first moment.

Actually she could have sung The Yellow Pages or nursery rhymes and made them sound like and archetypal tragedy – such is her expressiveness in performance, beauty of voice and conviction of mood in her music.

But, of course, it’s mostly Sandy Denny originals – the held-back power and breadth of the sea, and brooding storm clouds – a typical Sandy Denny song is the musical equivalent of a Turner painting. A succession of favorites spiral up round the paper lanterns. One new song – ‘Solo’ – touches in a very sharp way on the topic of contemporary personal isolation. And once – in ‘John The Gun’ – she lets rip a taste of her potential power, almost overloading the PA.

The management have turned off the cooling fans to cut down background noise, and by the time Sandy is called loudly back for an encore her fringe is pasted to her forehead and she’s gasping for air in the heat. But she bounces up to give us Fats Waller’s standard ‘Until The Real Thing Comes Along’. It did Sandy, it did.

Sandy: One of our greatest vocal talents

IN ONE of her now rare concert appearances in Britain, Sandy Denny came to the Howff last week and proved in just over an hour that she really is one of today’s greatest vocal talents. She has complete and utter control over her strong if sometimes strange voice and at times, when seated at the piano, she sounded just a little like a female Gilbert O’Sullivan.

She sings her own material. Traditional songs seem to have been deleted from her repertoire, but she did conclude the evening with ‘Until The Real Thing Comes along’, a jazz standard from the 30s.

Most memorable were two new songs, hopefully both to be included on her forthcoming album. They were ‘Solo’, a difficult song, she said, in the “every man is an island'” mould describing how life is a solo performance by each individual, and ‘Like an Old Fashioned Waltz’, a tribute to nostalgia

Sandy can do no wrong…

Sandy, from here on you can do no wrong as far as I am concerned. On Monday at London’s Howff you did what I’ve always known you could do. You gave a completely flawless performance in which every single song was a minor masterpiece – no, I withdraw that word minor – and you did it completely on your own.

It’s been nearly a year since we saw you properly, but it was well worth waiting for.

The emotion in your singing was almost unbearable at times, particularly in your very fine new song, ‘Solo’, with its poignant autobiographical theme, “ain’t life a solo”.

Indeed it is. But when you can carry an audience along with you this way you are actually less alone than when you used to pack the stage with friends to give you moral support.

Your encore, ‘Until The Real Thing Comes Along’, was superb, a quiet, gentle way of saying goodbye. Until the next concert tour comes along. Let it be soon.

Sandy Denny’s moment of truth

By the time Sandy Denny, the young English singer, ended her concert at the Howff, Regent’s Park Road, in the early hours of yesterday, she had created an occasion which lovers of good contemporary songs, beautifully sung, will long remember and cherish. It was one of those happenings that critics dream of but rarely experience, when a good but hitherto erratic singer suddenly takes off, carrying her audience with her, on the kind of trip that singing is really all about. It was, in fact, Sandy Denny’s moment of truth.

When she first appeared in the folk clubs and on concert platforms Miss Denny was both over-praised and under-valued. Since then she has lived through many changes and uncertainties and has written a number of excellent songs. Now the uncertainties seem to be behind, and she has emerged with her own voice, spinning her own incantatory magic out of her modest, self-depreciating self.

In some of her songs at the Howff, particularly ‘Solo’, ‘No End’ and, and its own way, ‘Like an Old Fashioned Waltz’, talent became genius and there were glimpses of depths which few other singers have revealed to us.

The haunting beauty of Sandy Denny

A WOMAN alone. Herself, a piano – whatever spell they can weave. It is the hardest task of any entertainer. It means a fragile dependence upon the quality of each and every song. In concert, each phrase must balance, each note must tell, each crescendo must stun. There can be no skulking behind a heavy bass section, no lagging in the chorus. There is a raw point of utter solitude from which a woman soloist must perform.

Miss Denny gripped us last night from her first song, the one which is supremely hers, ‘Late November’. And she sings the hard way; no saccharine sweetness, no winsome, fey appeal to the high notes and our better natures. At times one hears courage and at times her voice conveys an almost telepathic sense of blunt pain.

The only woman I have heard who could compel an audience in this blunt and harshly loving way was Janis Joplin. There is point to the comparison. The greatest slide guitarist of our (and perhaps any) time Sun House, once said that only when you heard a good woman sing the blues did you know how gentle the blues could be. Janis Joplin sang blues in their savagery and in their tenderness. What Miss Denny sings may not be the blues. Sweet melancholy yes. Haunting beauty yes. It is part of the blues and a part of a part of a tradition that goes centuries back before folk music. Miss Denny has had an erratic career. When she is on form she can out-sing any female artist and move an audience to a point that is beyond tears. She was on form last night.

Rolling Stone Review – Sandy

If there is any aesthetic justice amid the turmoil of today’s music scene, this magnificently produced solo album from one of England’s most popular singer/songwriters should put Sandy Denny over the top in the States. Ex-member of Fairport Convention, among numerous associations in the English folk community, her reputation here still rests as much upon her having written “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” as upon any other single achievement. Last year, A&M released a fine solo album, The North Star Grassman and the Ravens, which didn’t get anywhere. Hopefully, the fate of “Sandy” will be different, because if this can’t do it for her, nothing can.

In its musical breadth and richness of production, Sandy is the English equivalent of the album whose title song she wrote, Judy Collins’ masterpiece , “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”. Vocally, the two ladies are quite similar. Both have a cool purity of delivery combined with awesome technical skills; both emit an aura of regality.

Eight songs are Sandy Denny originals. In addition, she sings Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” and Richard Farina’s “Quiet Joys of Brotherhood,” the latter set to a traditional tune and arranged and sung by Sandy in a breathtakingly lovely multi-tracked acapella vocal. Produced by Trevor Lucas, the album attempts, with complete success, to blend the strongly traditional flavor of Sandy’s songs, many of which are about sailors, gypsies and other stock English ballad themes, with the widest possible range of studeio instrumentation, from Nashville steel to symphony orchestra. “It’ll Take a Long Time” has John Bundrick on organ and “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow doubling on pedal steel, all laid out within a dense acoustic texture. The result is a relentlessly absorbing musical experience, simultaneously ethereal and lowdown, with Sandy’s gorgeous vocal soaring above it all, repeating the memorable lines of the refrain: “And it’ll take a long long time/ it’ll take a long long time.” For sheer lushness, nothing can beat “The Lady,” which is scored like the Delius Piano Concerto. Were it not for the elegance of both the song and the orchestration, the cut would be a disaster, it is anything but. The closest we get to rock is on “For Nobody to Hear” which is highlighted by an excellent Allen Toussaint brass arrangement. Then there is “Listen, Listen” a beautiful song, which has guitars disappearing into madolins that dissolve into strings, anda powerful vocal by Sandy, in close harmony with herself.

Suffice it to say that every cut is graced with instrumental flash and musical taste that will bowl you over. Because Sandy’s songs are so majestically simple, they can not only take this weight, they thrive on it. All told, I think that Sandy is the year’s finest album by an English singer. Here’s hoping it will bring the lady back to the States in triumph.