Though regularly hailed as one of English music's finest voices, Sandy Denny's solo work has never quite enjoyed the sort of adulation that's heaped on her work with Fairport Convention, or even Fotheringay or The Strawbs (not to mention her cameo appearance with Led Zeppelin).
Maybe it's because her solo albums never quite delivered on their promise; though studded with great songs and performances, they were an uneven bunch, sometimes burdened with unsympathetic production and overcooked arrangements. In a way it's records like this one where Denny's talents are best displayed.
The early appearances here (from 1967) are probably best described as 'of historical interest', though Denny's bell-like voice could transform the most indifferent or derivative material even at this stage. Arguably it was after her first spell with Fairport that she found her way as a songwriter, giving the poetic, impressionistic confessionals of the Joni Mitchell school a distinctly English, unsentimental voice. The stripped down arrangements on these session and concert performances (most are played solo) allow the limpid, melancholy beauty of her songwriting to shine through. Several of these versions outstrip their studio counterparts easily. Even a wobbly lo-fi cassette recording of 'The North Star Grassman And The Ravens' is up there with the original.
The few tracks performed with a full band range from a stab at jazz to a rockin' version of 'Dark The Night' that sounds uncannily like All About Eve; evidence both of her eclecticism and the deep influence her work has had on a huge range of musicians since her death. Many of these performances have been made available before, but extras including a DVD comprising TV appearances and scans of Denny's notebooks make this an essential purchase for fans (along with The Boxful of Treasures set). Recommended. --Pete Marsh