It came as a bit of surprise to see the release of 2 by Fotheringay last year. The group Sandy Denny, considered the greatest vocal interpreter of British traditional music, left Fairport Convention for with her lover/soon to be husband Trevor Lucas in 1970, recorded tracks for a second album but it was never released.
In fact, it was doubtful there was enough there for a second album. The self-titled debut earlier in 1970 was a nice enough start but hadn’t exactly eclipsed the best of Fairport, which was to England what the Byrds were to America in its blending of rock, pop and traditional sensibilities.
Both Denny and Lucas have long passed, but the other members, guitarist Jerry Donahue, drummer Gerry Conway, who later played with Cat Stevens, and bassist Pat Donaldson regrouped last year to finish the project. This has been tried before, particularly in the Hendrix camp by previous estate supervisor Alan Douglas, with very mixed results. But from the opening bar of this album’s first track John The Gun, you immediately sense this is different and right.
The sound literally jumps from your speakers in clarity and presence, the playing is skilled and tasteful and the vocals, although taken from reference tracks recorded during the laydown of the basic tracks, are inspired and near flawless by Denny and Lucas.
The reason for the unfinished product in 1970 was Denny’s departure for a solo career, something her label, Island, had been lobbying for. Some of these tunes showed up on her first solo effort and others have been released on various box set retrospectives of her work. But none sound better than on this record.
The waltz time interpretation of Silver Threads & Golden Needles is a significant improvement over previously released versions. A traditional tune, Wild Mountain Thyme, also recorded by the Byrds and Van Morrison among others, lends itself beautifully to Denny’s pure voice streaming over the bass of Lucas’ harmony.
Late November, to appear later on Denny’s The Northstar Grassman & The Ravens, joins John The Gun as the only Denny-penned songs on the set. It’s a somber, moderate tempo, traditional sounding piece so familiar to her oeuvre.
Fotheringay try a second take on Gypsy Davey, a traditional that appeared on the self-titled album, and play a relaxed groove that features Denny smoothly doubling in the middle section with Donahue’s lead guitar. Dave Cousins’ Two Weeks Last Summer closes the album, a 12-string dominated folk tune reminiscent of the Byrds, which falls into Denny’s range perfectly.
One of the only regrets is that nearly half of the vocal leads are taken by Lucas, whose in fine form but can’t match his exquisite partner. His tracks are much more country oriented than tunes he sang on the first album and they indicate the direction he may have wanted to take the group.
Jerry Donahue was involved in a similar reconstruction project with a Denny concert, Gold Dust Live At The Royalty (1998), her last before a death attributed to a fall in 1978, on which he overdubbed various guitar parts during his production. That one was seamless. This one is even better. The exact additions or remakings of each track are not documented, but that the original members are the contributors should erase any doubts about the project or its intentions.