When Sandy Denny departed Fairport Convention, insisting that she wanted to concentrate upon her own songwriting rather than pursue the band's exploration of traditional English music, she never meant she also intended abandoning the folk idiom itself. Although all but two of the songs on this, her first post-Fairport project, are indeed original compositions, it is readily apparent that, like former bandmate Richard Thompson, her greatest talents lay distinctly within the same traditions as the poets and balladeers of earlier centuries, while the fact that fully one-half of Fotheringay itself would eventually join Fairport illustrates the care that went into the band's formation. Even the group's name resonates -- "Fotheringay" was also one of Denny's best-loved Fairport songs. Listening to the album, too, one can see and hear the mothership all over the show, from the tight dynamics of "The Sea" to the simple beauty of "Winter Winds" and on to the showpiece "Banks of the Nile," a Napoleonic Wars-era ballad set firmly in the storytelling mold of "A Sailor's Life," "Tam Linn," and the post-Denny Fairport's own "Bonnie Bunch of Roses." The presence of producer Joe Boyd and guest vocalist Linda Peters complete the sense of a family affair.
Where Fotheringay and Fairport drift apart is in the instrumentation -- one of Fairport's most-endearing talents, after all, was the sense of ramshackle adventure that the bandmembers brought to their recordings. Fotheringay was far more "musicianly," packing a perfectionism that comes close, in places, to stifling the sheer exuberance of the music. The overuse of Trevor Lucas' distinctly mannered vocals, too, reveals the album in a disappointing light -- great guitarist though he was, his voice offers nothing that you could not hear in any amateur folk club, any night of the week, rendering Dylan's "Too Much of Nothing," Gordon Lightfoot's "The Way I Feel," and his own "Ballad of Ned Kelly" little more than makeweights. Such failings are completely overshadowed, of course, by the triumphs that are Denny's finest contributions -- the best of which close the album on a peak unheard since "The Sea," back at the beginning of the cycle. "The Banks of the Nile" rates among the loveliest and most evocative performances of her entire career, while the hauntingly hypnotic "Two Weeks Last Summer" and a moody "Gypsy Davey" draw out an expressiveness that had similarly been in short supply elsewhere on the record. The end result is an album that, while every Denny fan should hear it, is best experienced sliced and diced across the various compilations that purport to tell the story of Fairport Convention. Bereft of the faults that never make those collections, Fotheringay deserves every kind word that has ever been sent in the band's direction. [In 2004, Fledg'ling records released a remastered edition that included live versions of "Two Weeks of Summer," "Nothing More," "Banks of the Nile" and "Memphis Tennessee," recorded at the 1970 Rotterdam Pop Festival.]