Sandy Denny - The North Star Grassman And The Ravens

After a whirlwind stint with Fairport Convention and the short-lived Fotheringay, English songstress Sandy Denny finally decided to go it alone; The North Star Gassman And The Ravens was the first of four solo albums, and forty years on still remains one of her finest moments. The original eleven tracks display vividly the range of influences that went into the melting pot far more so than previous group efforts: the traditional folk staple ‘Blackwaterside’ sits alongside the obligatory Bob Dylan cover of the bluesy ‘Down In The Flood’, and the rock ’n’ roll boogie of Brenda Lee’s ‘Let’s Jump The Broomstick’. The rest of the songs are all original compositions, beautiful and haunting tales showing off the purity of Sandy’s voice.

The first disc of this reissue is rounded out by a few b-sides, including the raucous honky tonk classic ‘Walking The Floor Over You’ sung with long time collaborator Richard Thompson. But hidden amongst this lot is the sole unreleased track in the collection, an instrumental version of the legendary “lost track” ‘Lord Bateman’; somewhat unremarkable without any vocals over the top, it is still a delightful and insightful little number.

The most magically moments however occur on the second disc; the five demos taken from last year’s mammoth nineteen disc set are sparse and intimate affairs, being just solo renditions with vocals and guitar – and in the case of the gorgeous ‘Lord Bateman’, unaccompanied vocals. A trio of BBC session tracks are similarly stripped down, although the second hand recording quality rather diminishes the enjoyment of these otherwise fine renditions.

The final four tracks are all taken from Sandy Denny’s 1972 BBC in Concert performance at the famous Paris Theatre, and as with the preceding tracks feature her alone; it is a real shame that they didn’t see fit to include all seven recordings, as these are by far the best she has ever sounded. As well as having the best three tracks from The North Star Gassman And The Ravens, the traditional murder ballad ‘Bruton Town’ is equally heartbreaking; the final offering of ‘John The Gun’ is so sadly beautiful that I just want to break down and weep every time, such is the raw emotion packed into its three minutes and fifteen seconds!

Overall

9

out of 10

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