Sandy Denny

A Boxful of Treasures

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Even before her all-too-tragic passing in 1978, Sandy Denny was touted as England's premiere female folk vocalist. However, gratuitous comparisons with contemporaries Jacqui McShee and Joni Mitchell seem to have been more of an albatross or doubled-edged sword than confirmation of Denny's wholly individualistic style. Depending on which side of the aisle the respective listener and potential consumer sits -- as curious enthusiast or dyed-in-the-wool Denny convert -- this 88-track compilation can be interpreted as (a) either the final word on the artist or (b) another in a series of multi-disc collections that falls short of offering all the essentials within her voluminous songbook. Parties falling in the latter camp can undoubtedly point to excluded favorites -- from Denny's participation as half of Sandy & Johnny, as a member of Fairport Convention, the Strawbs, Fotheringay or on her own -- as evidence that only a 'complete' anthology could capture all that Denny has to offer. From that perspective, they would be just as correct as someone whose piqued interests are thoroughly satiated by the nearly six hours of audio included on Boxful of Treasures (2004). The contents are presented in a primarily chronological fashion, commencing with the powerful cover of "3.10 to Yuma" -- from Denny's professional debut backed by Roger Evans (guitar) and David Moses (bass) -- which had been a hit for pop singer Frankie Lane. Immediately established is Denny's commanding prowess and sensitivity, particularly pervasive on the originals "They Don't Seem to Know You" and appropriately enough "Boxful of Treasure" -- a song which would resurface in due time under the name "Fotheringay." These are equalled by Denny's arrangements of "She Moves Through the Fair" and the haunting "Geordie" -- all sourced from a smattering of lo-fi homemade recordings in 1967. Other formative zeniths from her collaborations with Evans and Moses are the empathetic overhaul of Jackson C. Frank's "You Never Wanted Me" and joined by Alex Campbell (vocals) on the gospel-infused "This Train." By mid-'68, Denny had become a member of the Strawbs and her contributions to Dave Cousins' "Sail Away to Sea," "Tell Me What You See in Me" and most notably, the first reading of "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" are spotlighted. When contrasted to her incipient demos, both the outstanding and never-before-available "Autopsy" as well as "Now and Then" -- which initially turned up on the triple-CD Who Knows Where the Time Goes (1985) -- are decidedly more polished, but no less emotionally gripping. As Denny's involvement with Fairport Convention has been widely documented, there are but a few rarities from her '68/'69 stint with the aggregate. One of which is the oft-circulated, yet previously unreleased rendition of "Sir Patrick Spens" lifted off a Top Gear BBC Radio session for John Peel on September 23, 1969. The tunes from the Fairport studio platters What We Did on Our Holidays (1969), Unhalfbricking (1969) and Liege & Lief (1969) are adeptly chosen, if not somewhat obligatory. The same holds true for the eponymous Fotheringay (1970) long-player, with the sizable exception of a newly unearthed take of "Silver Threads & Golden Needles" that is beautiful in its sparseness. Not to mention "Late November," a cut that was on the Island Records various-artists compilation El Pea (1971). Two of the volumes are dedicated to Denny's '70s solo career and luckily there are plenty of nuggets from the era unveiled within and scattered among the offerings from the LPs North Star Grassman and the Ravens (1971), Sandy (1972), Like an Old Fashioned Waltz (1973) and the posthumous BBC Sessions (1997). They include an alternate version of "Next Time Around" (sans string arrangement) circa North Star Grassman. Plus, unaccompanied renderings of "Sweet Rosemary" and "The Lady" from Sandy, in addition to "No End" and "At the End of the Day" (sans strings) from Like an Old Fashioned Waltz. It bears repeating these are all exclusive contents on Boxful of Treasures. By the middle part of the 1970s, the results of Denny's indulgences began to permeate her craft. She returned to the re-formation of Fairport Convention for Rising for the Moon (1974) before splitting again, emerging on what would become her final album Rendezvous (1977). This late period is punctuated with a bevy of rarities and outtakes. A live Fairport interpretation of "John the Gun" and "She Moves Through the Fair" hail from the February '74 shows at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. While an austere piano demo of the Rising for the Moon piece "One More Chance" will be worth the price of admission alone for some. those purchasing first-edition copies of the assemblage will undoubtedly be ecstatic with the fifth or 'bonus' CD, fittingly dubbed "A Collection of Rarities and Demos." Only three of the 17 selections have ever ascended over the years, leaving a host of titles that may be familiar to Denny fans, but certainly not as they appear on this package. Regardless of the consumer's prior knowledge or interest in Sandy Denny, it is here that she is at her most arrestingly poignant. "Take Me Away," "No More Sad Refrains," "Take Away the Load" and "Full Moon" are nothing short of organic aural jewels. As fellow Fairport Convention member Richard Thompson (guitar/vocal) points out in his introductory essay, "Somewhere the taste gurus have ... failed to tell us, after 20 years of hindsight opportunity, that Sandy Denny was the greatest British female artist of her generation." Hopefully packages such as this will go a long way in rectifying that and give Denny the lauds she rightly deserves. The 56-page liner book is replete with photos, song-by-song annotations as well as comments and memories by associates ranging from John Renbourn, Danny Thompson, Ashley Hutchings, Linda Thompson, Jerry Donahue, Simon Nichol, Ian Matthews, Dave Mattacks, John "Rabbit" Bundrick and Dave Pegg to producer Joe Boyd and rock & roll family tree designer Pete Frame -- among others.

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