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.