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Like An Old-Fashioned Waltz
on 7 November 2011
My expectations were not particularly high for this album. The news that a contemporary singer-songwriter has been given the task of "finishing" the scraps of songs left behind by Sandy Denny suggests a resultant album of only curiosity interest. Moreover, while Sandy Denny wrote some great songs, it's tempting to think that her voice was a central requirement in them.
In fact, this album (though very short at 36 minutes) is very much better than I had any reason to hope. Gilmore does not try to make the songs contemporary, aiming instead to produce a classic album of the 1970s: the arrangements are full, the production rather thick and pop-influenced, just like Denny's own solo albums. The appearance of John Kirkpatrick on accordion is just one of many instrumental touches that grounds the songs securely in Denny's soundworld, and while Gilmore herself does not (and perhaps COULD not) imitate Denny, the inflections are often similar. If you didn't know in advance that Sandy's songwriting was involved in the process, I think that you would still sense her keen influence on Thea's album.
The drawbacks to this album are also Sandy's. The songs are old-fashioned and tend to hog the middle of the road. They are slightly over-produced ... not as much as Denny's later solo albums, but more than one would like. Perhaps too often there are moments in these songs that one feels one has heard elsewhere. At times this is enough to put this album on the edge of "guilty pleasure" territory.
That said, if this album were just a 2011 album that happened to have lyrics by Sandy Denny, it wouldn't really have justified all the work that went into producing it. Instead, it delivers on the almost impossible promise of giving us an album that Sandy might have released: an album that could be compared meaningfully even with The North Star Grassman and The Ravens. I'd be hard-pressed to think of another album of recent years that features ten ballads as strong as these.
I think that it's highly unlikely that Denny would actually have done another album as good as this one ... fortunately Thea Gilmore has done it for her.