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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bewitching
This neglected classic was Sandy's first solo album following the demise of the short-lived but superb Fotheringay. The cast of musicians she gathered round her to help make TNSGATR included the members of that group and Richard Thompson, whose contributions to the album are uniformly excellent.
Her decision to work with people who were both great musicians and good...
Published on 4 Nov 2003 by djfolkfinger

versus
1 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Two out of eleven - not good.
I have a few 'best of's and decided to backtrack to the original albums to see if I'd missed any gems; sadly not from this album. Only Late November and Next Time Around stand out, and I had them both already.
Published on 25 Aug 2011 by Mr. S. E. Farnworth


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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bewitching, 4 Nov 2003
This neglected classic was Sandy's first solo album following the demise of the short-lived but superb Fotheringay. The cast of musicians she gathered round her to help make TNSGATR included the members of that group and Richard Thompson, whose contributions to the album are uniformly excellent.
Her decision to work with people who were both great musicians and good friends was a wise one. From the entirely sympathetic backing to the understated production and engineering by old Fairport Convention collaborator John Wood, the sound of the album is one of its strongest points. It is less polished than some of her later solo records, and I think it is all the better for that. It also has the most consistent feel and mood.
That mood is one of ethereal beauty. I have spent many an evening listening to this record under the stars by the sea, and it's the perfect soundtrack. Sandy's writing was very elemental, her lyrics often reflecting upon the power of nature and the inevitabilty of change in life. This quality gives the songs a depth and mystery that is both beguiling and timeless, never more so than on Next Time Around...
For this listener, Next Time Around is one of the finest songs and performances ever recorded. Everything about it is perfect, from the startling, abstract lyrics to Ian Whiteman's haunting piano and the gorgeous string arrangement by Harry Robinson. And then there is Sandy's vocal. Was there ever another voice of such bewitching, transcendent beauty? There have been many truly great singers, but none with that quality of other-worldliness that she could convey with such seeming ease. I am still so in awe of her talent - she was only 24 when TNSGATR was released in 1971, yet she sings like a woman who has experienced all the world has to offer, good and bad.
Every one of Sandy's songs on this album is a pearl, my other favourites being Late November and Wretched Wilbur. The only relative low points are the rockier material, covers of Dylan's Down In The Flood and Charles Robins' Let's Jump The Broomstick. Both performances are fine, its just that her voice sounds less convincing on harder-edged songs. I would never pigeon-hole her as purely a folk singer, but I think slower songs drawing from that tradition allowed her voice the room to soar and permeate the space between the other instruments.
All in all, The Northstar Grassman and The Ravens is an exquisite album by a singular talent who is sorely missed but not forgotten. At Fairport's Cropredy Festival in Oxfordshire each August, 20,000 massed voices continue to sing the songs of the greatest female singer that ever came from these green and pleasant lands.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sandy Denny - Crazy lady blues, 13 Jun 2011
By 
Red on Black - See all my reviews
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It seems like only yesterday listening for the first time to the "Battle of Evermore" from Led Zeppelin IV when the female voice on this duet with Robert Plant cast a spell which has proved enduring. It was the only song Led Zeppelin ever recorded with a guest vocalist although Sandy Denny went on to produce even greater glories. 1971 saw both the release of the Zeppelin classic and Sandy Denny's first solo album "The North Star Grassman and the Ravens" here given the deluxe treatment by Island records in the form of the original record now digitally remastered, plus bonus tracks including already released BBC recordings, 5 rare demos that are on the humungous and expensive box set and one unreleased recording: an instrumental version of Lord Bateman.

To be honest if you already own the excellent 2005 remaster the sound quality here seems to these ears to be broadly the same and with the only "new" track being an instrumental many will already have these recordings. For those however approaching Denny for the first time this is an excellent starting point. During this period she was at the top of her game both vocally and in terms of songwriting and "North Star Grassman" contains a number of her greatest songs.

While the joyous cover versions of "Lets jump the broomstick" and Dylan's "Down in the flood" are a treat it is inevitably the slower songs that stand out. The gentle plaintive country of "Crazy lady blues", the blissful autumnal melancholy of "Late November" and her great take on traditional folk of "Blackwaterside". Her own obsessions also loom large not least with the oceans which played out in so many of her songs including the glorious "Sea Captain" (the demo here is actually a better version) and the aching beauty and imagery of the mystical title track with the Paris Theatre live version particularly poignant. The album also contain three versions of the remarkable "Next time around" which the one of todays great singers Joanna Newsom has described as "carving out some sculpture .....it's just unbelievably ambitious and interesting and just reaches such incredible heights. My personal favourite of the three remains the simple piano demo which is devastating in its simplicity with Denny's voice touched by the angels, although Harry Robinsons string based arrangement is very fine indeed. Such a contrast again is manifested on the album version and demo of "Wretched Wilbur". Robinson's strings on the first version give it a lush texture but the English folk rawness of the guitar based demo provides an altogether harder and more honest edge.

In 2005 the perceptive music journalist Jon Harris attempted to explain why lesser talents have been posthumously feted, but Sandy Denny remains a decidedly cult interest. He went on to interview "the Guv'nor" Ashley Hutchings one of English folk music's most pivotal figures who argued that Denny "needs to be re-evaluated. She wrote a kind of song that's very rarely written now - emotional, musically interesting, sung really well - serious songwriting. She was head and shoulders above the rest. And she remains so". These are very fine words and with the passage of time you sense that the process of revaluation is gathering pace. As "North Star Grassman and the Ravens' proves Denny is a songwriter as musically important as Judee Sill, Laura Nyro, Janis Ian and Joni Mitchell, thus no record collection is complete without her.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply beautiful., 8 Mar 2007
By 
olfulla (New Zealand) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The North Star Grassman And The Ravens (Audio CD)
While not a big fan of "remastered" albums, I would recommend this one unreservedly to anyone who loves Sandy Denny's work. It has come up all bright and shiny. Her voice is prominent but the accompaniment is warm and crystal clear. It's a beautiful, melancholic album, and the bonus tracks don't spoil the mood as bonus tracks all too often do. The lovely "Blackwaterside" and the chilling "John the Gun" are my picks, but I'd not skip anything on the disc.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sandy's Best Solo Album Superbly Remastered, 14 July 2005
By 
Rod Parkes (Taipo, Hong Kong) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The North Star Grassman And The Ravens (Audio CD)
This is probably Sandy Denny's finest solo effort (though much of the accompaniment was provided by her Fairport and Fotheringay cohorts, with Richard Thompson's guitar and Gerry Conway's drumming particularly outstanding). Now it has been reissued in a beautifully remastered edition which brings out every detail clearly, and features informative new notes (who knew the album's working title was "Slapstick Tragedies"?). Four bonus tracks are added, all worthwhile, though none is a real rarity to Sandy collectors. If you already know this album, this version is worth upgrading to. If not, you are missing out on some fine music from one of the best singer/songwriters to come out of the British folk-rock scene.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent album with a good cross-section of Sandy's styles, 19 Feb 2002
By 
Tim Edmonds "tim427" (Minehead) - See all my reviews
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This was Sandy's first solo album after the split of Fotheringay and the band's members contribute here in varying amounts - all of them on the first track "Late November". More significant is the contribution that former Fairport Convention colleague Richard Thompson makes, and not just with his superb guitar work. He is co-producer, plays on every track (sometimes with more than one instrument) and duets vocally with Sandy on Bob Dylan's "Down in the Flood".
Sandy wrote eight of the tracks, including the magnificent "John the Gun", which features Barry Dransfield on violin. There is one traditional song, a beautiful performance of "Blackwaterside". The remaining number is the Charles Robins' song "Let's Jump the Broomstick", more usually associated with Brenda Lee, which with the Dylan song provides two rockers to balance the more pensive Denny compositions.
This is an excellent album, with a good cross-section of Sandy's styles, although for me it doesn't quite reach the heights of 'Sandy' and 'Rendezvous'.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "...The Depths Of The Waters...", 31 Aug 2009
By 
Mark Barry "Mark Barry" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The North Star Grassman And The Ravens (Audio CD)
The two-word secret weapon for this CD remaster is DENIS BLACKHAM.

Now based in Skye Mastering in Scotland, his involvement in restoration, mastering and remastering goes back to the late 1960s and his resume now shows over 680 credits to his name across a huge range of genres (including a lot of folk).

Blackham has handled all 4 of the solo albums in this reissue series and as you've no doubt read from other glowing reviews, each remaster has been endowed with truly wonderful sound quality - frankly because care was taken.

Details first - having done her stints with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay - Sandy Denny's 1st solo album was issued 3 September 1971 on Island ILPS 9165 in the UK and this 2005 remastered version of it (57:05 minutes) features 4 excellent bonus tracks - including the rare "El Pea" double-album sampler version of "Late November" - an alternate version to the album's opening track (lyrics above).

Musicians - all the good Fairport associated people are here - Richard Thompson, Pat Donaldson, Gerry Conway, Trevor Lucas and Ian Whiteman. Polydor Folkmill artists Robin and Barry Dransfield also put in violin and vocals on "John The Gun" while long-time session man Tony Reeves plays bass on the Dylan cover "Down In The Flood" and Roger Powell plays drums on the Brenda Lee cover "Let's Jump The Broomstick". But my personal fave is "The Sea Captain" where Richard Thompson's delicate guitar picking perfectly compliments the beauty of her wayfaring love song. Gorgeous stuff.

The 12-page booklet has informative and affectionate liner notes from noted writer and folk-compiler DAVID SUFF (of Fledgling Records reissue fame) peppered with photos of a young Sandy, hand-written lyrics to the title track and a quirky trade advert for the LP's release.

But you keep coming back to the sound quality, which seems to have lifted the beauty of these folk-rock gems out of their former muddiness. Sweet as...

I once had the privilege of nattering to JOHN WALTERS (John Peel's producer) in a pub in 1994 (I worked for Reckless Records at the time and we were buying his extraordinary record collection - he was even more talkative than I am!) and he relayed to me his first ever viewing of Sandy Denny.

One of his friends in the music industry had begged him to come see this new English folk singer gigging in some Godforsaken bar somewhere in London - he did - and was duly blown away. I'll never forget the look in John Walter's eyes (who along with Peel must have seen so much stunning talent) - he was misty - like he knew he'd had the chance to glimpse greatness.

On listening to this lovely and lovingly restored CD, you can't help but feel that all involved in this project felt exactly the same - and have done the great lady's memory and musical heritage proud.

Recommended - big time.

PS: see also the "Meet On The Ledge" 3CD Island Box review I've done - Denis Blackham remastered that set too...
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars puddings...egging...over...but worth it, 15 Jun 2011
By 
Mr. H "Mr H" (Embra) - See all my reviews
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The latest album to receive full overegging treatment is "North Star Grassman and The Ravens", the 1971 album by Sandy Denny. The former Fairport Convention / Fotheringay singer gets a two CD treatment with disc one containing the original album plus four bonus tracks including a previously unreleased instrumental version of 'Lord Bateman'. Which for an album by a singer seems odd, and over on disc two there are a mighty 12 bonus tracks, five of which were on the 19CD box set, which will really piss off people who bought that, plus 2 songs recorded for BBC Radio's Bob Harris show in September 1971 plus a version of 'Backwaterside' from the BBC's Sounds On Sunday in November 1972, along with 4 songs recorded live at the Paris Theatre on March 25th, 1972.

The basic album is one of her best, largely made up of original material, with two reworked Fotheringay tracks, alongside a couple of diametrically opposed covers in the shape of Bob Dylan's 'Down In The Flood' and 'Let's Jump The Broomstick', a hit for Little Miss Dymanite herself, Miss Brenda Lee. It's a stirring album, with some of her best vocals and best songs with 'Late November', one of her best songs, nay one of folks best songs. It's been out as remaster before, which had four bonus tracks, so you'll need to get that for an even more complete picture.

But it's disc two that will have people reaching for their credit cards, as the live / in session material is well worth getting a hold of. The trad arr 'The Lowlands Of Holland' is an absolute peach, as are the Paris Theatre takes of 'Bruton Town' and 'Next Time Around'. As with all these projects, there is a lot of duplicated material for the collector, but if you haven't heard this before, then you really ought to.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent first solo album from Sandy, 31 Mar 2009
By 
Peter Durward Harris "Pete the music fan" (Leicester England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The North Star Grassman And The Ravens (Audio CD)
Having recorded one album with the Strawbs, three with Fairport Convention and one with Fotheringay, Sandy Denny embarked on a solo career, during which she recorded three albums before returning to Fairport Convention and recording a further album. She then recorded a fourth solo album, released in 1977, before her career was cut short by her premature death in 1978.

This 1971 album is typical of Sandy's solo albums in being mainly filled with mellow, romantic songs, most of them written by Sandy herself, with the occasional cover version. Like the others, this album was re-issued in 2005 with extra tracks, some being alternate versions of those that appear on the main album and some being different songs.

Taking the eleven tracks on the album as originally issued first, Sandy wrote eight of them herself. The other three are covers of a traditional folk ballad (Black waterside), a mid-tempo Bob Dylan song (Down in the flood) and one of Brenda Lee's rocking songs (Let's jump the broomstick), the last two breaking up the general flow of the album by being at a different tempo from the other tracks; you may either appreciate the contrast or be annoyed by it, depending on your taste. In any case, Sandy performs them well, proving she can sing more than just ballads although ballads are what she does best. As ever with Sandy's albums, it is her own songs that are the best but it's not easy to pick out highlights, but I'm inclined to agree with the writer of the liner notes, who picks out Next time around (allegedly about American singer-songwriter Jackson Frank), Crazy lady blues (allegedly about Linda Thompson). Still, there's not much to choose between all of Sandy's songs here where quality is concerned.

Two of the four bonus tracks are alternate versions of tracks that appeared on the main album , these being Late November (recorded for an intended but unfinished second Fotheringay album) and Next time around (without the strings). The other two bonus tracks are a cover of a country song (Walking the floor over you, but Sandy's folk-rock version is very different from the Ernest Tubb original) and a cover of a song whose origin eludes me (Losing game), but which gives writing credit to Richard Clapton.

This is a great album from a singer who is better appreciated now than in her lifetime.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My vote for best album ever, 13 July 2012
By 
S. R. Coberman "Miserable Old Git" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
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I have only got mere 900 or so albums, collected over 42 years (which, I agree, makes me an old git). North Star Grassman came in as my no 1 when I first bought it in 1971, and nothing has ever knocked it off its perch.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sandy Denny is probably the greatest songwriter of the 20th century and this and her ..., 11 Nov 2014
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This is a UMC reissue of Sandy's debut album on vinyl. The album itself is full of timeless songs. Sandy Denny is probably the greatest songwriter of the 20th century and this and her follow up Sandy show her great talent. Her vocal renditions of her own songs are superb, if you are buying Sandy's vinyl reissues then buy the UMC versions that have the blessing of her estate: these are taken from master tapes; avoid the vinyl lovers label which sound like the CD pressed on to vinyl and even have CD only bonus tracks: if you want thise get tge deluxe CD editions, which are excellent. .

Sandy is an inventive writer whose songs sound like they were written many moons ago and were always there. It is hard to tell a Sandy original from a traditional song, I would always recommend the album Sandy as the best way to get in to the works of Sandy Denny, but North Star Grassman & the Ravens runs it very close.
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