Top critical review
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on 30 September 2013
In his highly acclaimed book Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music, the music writer Rob Young identifies the late, self-destructive female singer-songwriter, as one of the key figures in 20th century British folk rock, alongside the likes of Pentangle, Nick Drake, and the Incredible String Band. He makes this judgement because of her work in the late 1960s and 1970s as firstly, lead singer for the folk rock band Fairport Convention, then as part of her own short-lived band, Fotheringay, before embarking on a solo career that produced 4 studio albums between 1971 and 1977 (The North Star Grassman and the Ravens, Sandy, Like an Old Fashioned Waltz, and Rendezvous). This budget-priced CD focusses solely on that latter phase of her career.
It begins that task well, with a 1973 take on her best-known song, the wistful 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes?'. That much-covered effort is followed by a reasonable proportion of the best songs in her back-catalogue, including: 'Late November', 'Next Time Around', 'Solo', 'No End', 'I'm A Dreamer', and 'The Lady'. Also included amongst the 15 song track-listing are the traditional 'Blackwaterside', and her version of former colleague Richard Thompson's 'I Wish I Was A Fool For You (Again)', which both convincingly show off her talents as a skilful interpreter of other people's material. Hearing all this generally understated folk-rock - with it poignant lyrics, sympathetic musical arrangements, and Denny's haunting vocal performances - provides a reminder of why esteemed artists such as Robert Plant, Kate Bush and Pete Townshend have doffed their caps to her in the past, and hip contemporary acts like Laura Marling, Joanna Newsom, and Joan As Policeman, have cited her as an influence on their own work.
But this budget-priced collection has almost the same faults as another Spectrum/Universal release - John Martyn's Sweet Little Mystery: The Essential. There is no place in the running order for a not insignificant number of first-rate songs, like the foreboding 'Listen, Listen', anxiety-ridden 'Stranger To Himself', the pagan folk song 'The North Star Grassman And The Ravens', and the dreamy 'One-Way Donkey Ride' (all of which regularly feature in other compilations of her work). Whilst two key tracks are presented in marginally inferior live versions. These drawbacks wouldn't be as much of a problem if The Lady didn't have the contentious, and slightly misleading, subtitle of "The Essential". The fact that Patrick Humphries rushed sleevenote features contradictory information about her output doesn't help things much either.