I’m always a little wary about the posthumous raking over of an artist’s work. Sandy Denny has been well served by compilations and archive tapes over the years but even here there were some tracks that I do feel would have been better left unheard – mostly because of recording quality rather than any deficiencies on Sandy’s part, I hasten to say.
Thea Gilmore has previous, too, and I am torn over her interpretation of John Wesley Harding but Don’t Stop Singing is rather different.
It comprises ten lyrics which were discovered among Sandy’s personal papers and which, after a tortuous process, were offered to Thea to score and record. Her voice has the warmth of Sandy’s without the fragility and it suits the songs well. The opening track, ‘Glistening Bay’, is a big ballad, richly orchestrated but I can’t help thinking that this isn’t the tune that Sandy would have written. The title track brings to mind the old rock songs that Sandy used to do, songs like ‘Let’s Jump The Broomstick’, and with ‘Frozen Time’ Thea has absolutely nailed the soul of the song. Again, the orchestrations are lush but you can visualise Sandy at the piano as you can with the lovely ‘Goodnight’.
‘London’ is a very different song, the sort of folk-pop that Sandy brought to Fairport during her latter days with the band, but in the main Thea has chosen the more emotional lyrics like ‘Pain In My Heart’ and ‘Long Time Gone’ and there is a great sense of insecurity and loneliness in these songs. The final selection, ‘Georgia’, teasingly quotes Hoagy Carmichael’s tune in Sandy’s lullaby for her daughter.
Musically, this is very much a 21st century interpretation of the songs. Production is by Nigel Stonier who collaborated on the music and is a major part of the band. John and Benji Kirkpatrick, Maclaine Colston and Kellie While also feature and the strings are arranged by Donald Grant who also leads the orchestra. If I have a criticism, it is that the strings are sometimes too much and although Sandy herself used similar arrangements she kept them in balance, at least until Rendezvous. That said, as an interpretation of Sandy’s words, this is an astounding album.
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