The haunting beauty of Sandy Denny

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Martin Walker - The Guardian, 03 September 1973, (Published 04 September 1973) 4th September 1973

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.