My review originally appeared on the Bright Young Folk website here
Arguably, the finest female singer songwriter Britain has ever produced, it’s perhaps only been in recent years that Sandy Denny’s legacy has begun to start getting the due recognition it deserves. Yet on the other hand can there be too many attempts at repackaging? One Sandy Denny collection after another has been released in recent years so it is prudent to explore the purpose behind this latest one.
Indisputably, Denny appeared on some of the most iconic folk-rock albums the genre has ever produced. British popular music would certainly be much poorer had she never made albums like What We Did On Our Holidays and Liege and Lief with Fairport Convention or Fotheringay, with her own short-lived band of the same name.
At the same time, it is also not unreasonable to argue that a voice as unique and as precious as Denny’s also deserves the chance to be appreciated on its own terms: to be heard “pure, unadulterated and most untouchable” as the sleeve notes to this album boldly state, not merely as a singer in a band, however brilliant that band may be.
Even during her later solo career, which could perhaps have provided opportunities for the pure unadulterated Denny to come to the fore, her solo albums failed to remedy this for one reason or another. Each of her solo albums thus contained a plethora of guest musicians and elaborate arrangements, to the extent that they still receive very mixed reviews even today. Many a reviewer has argued that in spite of her outstanding prowess as a vocalist Sandy Denny never managed to make a truly outstanding solo album. So this is where this new collection comes in. Indeed, the extensive sleeve-notes for this CD cheekily subtitle it “The Best album Sandy Denny never made.”
So what it doesn’t try to do is attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of her entire recording career (as the 2010 Sandy Denny boxed set sought to do), nor does it simply collect together some of the best-known versions of her best-known songs (as other compilations have done). What it does do is bring together acoustic versions of forty songs from each stage of her career. Archives have been mined for demos, alternate takes, live recordings and BBC sessions.
While only a handful of these tracks have been previously unreleased, according to the sleeve-notes, that is arguably missing the point of this collection. It’s not really about unearthing new material or trying to gather together everything Denny has ever recorded. Rather it’s an attempt to bring some coherence to her recorded output and present her songs in a way that showcases her unique vocal talent with modest and simple, though still very beautiful, acoustic accompaniment.
Amongst the two CDs worth of tracks, the collection includes the beautifully understated acoustic version of Who Knows Where The Time Goes that Denny sang with the Strawbs, a guitar and vocals acoustic master of Fairport Convention’s She Moves Through The Fair, a brilliantly powerful piano and vocals version of Solo and a stunning live version of Blackwaterside, both from her solo career.
In an era where we can all get rather tired of the endless repackaging of classic artists and the endless attempts by record companies to find new ways of making money from the same old recordings, I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn – The Acoustic Sandy Denny is a project with a purpose, a logic and a coherence and as such it does Sandy Denny’s legacy proud.
Released: April 2016