Back in 2010, while working on the complete Sandy Denny box set, Phil Lloyd Smee came across notebooks with lyrics for uncompleted songs. Several of these, at the request of Denny’s estate. Thea Gilmore transformed for her 2011 collaboration album, Don’t Stop Singing and now, as a continuing celebration of her mother’s legacy, her daughter Georgia has passed the torch to German singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Fuchs. Already a devotee, since 2020 she’s been including Denny’s song in her live shows, the first steps being taken when she composed a new tune to ‘Sixpence’, previously featuring on the Gilmore album as ‘Song No.4’ and also wrote ‘Songbird’ about the relationship between Denny and her daughter.
Eventually, though various YouTube postings of cover versions, Carla and Georgia’s paths connected and, after hearing the two recordings mentioned above, the latter proposed making a whole album, and has created the artwork, not as an attempt to recreate Denny’s sound or style, but to channel her spirit and bring the words to life. Mostly accompanying herself on piano but also guitar and the occasional organ, clarinet and celeste with Maurice Oeser on bass, Nils Kainer on pedal steel and both Christoph Goldstein and Marion Fleetwood on fiddle, it opens with ‘Sixpence’, the same lyrics as the Gilmore version but transposed to classical piano now with a slow, stentorian mood more suited to its end of tether content as she speaks of being at the mercy of an industry with little concern for her mental state and her frustration to find the sort of recognition she deserved.
Those thoughts carry over into ‘Go West’, arranged for acoustic guitar, fiddle (Fleetwood) and pedal steel, which, with a vintage Laurel Canyon feel, has her contemplating moving to America in search of success “to feel the rain/Smile and leave the losers behind” that ends with the memorable line “You need a visa for Heaven/But God’s got no embassy here”.
The self-penned title track follows, a late night piano ballad that, featuring clarinet, guitar break and somehow musically reminding of Kiki Dee’s ‘Amoreuse’, casts Sandy as the “beautiful guardian angel” watching over and guiding her daughter. ‘Simply Falls Apart’ again has her displaying her talents on piano and electric guitar on a song about how things can change in an instant and “all our plans are lost or scattered/Like costly robes reduced to tatters”.
‘If You Are Free’, a return to guitar and clarinet, and that LA vibe, has a more optimistic outlet as she dispenses advice (“So use your mind, if you are free when all you need to do is talk/Don’t sat at home and wait/Get up, go out and walk”) though the line “don’t kill the game like a hawk/Watch your prey when you stalk” is decidedly enigmatic. Strummed on guitar with a warming clarinet solo, the gentle folksy sway of ‘Charm And Patience’ with its line about how “it takes determination/Shaping the way for our precious children” is an appropriate prelude to ‘Georgia’ (again part of the Gilmore album) which, featuring piano, clarinet and celeste, is a tender, slow contemplative love song to her daughter, its lullaby nature reinforced by the musical box notes coda.
Perhaps unconsciously, there’s a hint of ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ in the opening to the road song ‘Half Way Home’, musically and vocally the closest to Denny’s own work, one which, had she ever recorded it, would surely have numbered among her finest moments. Fingerpicked guitar and woodwind bring a courtly mood to ‘Winter Elms’, a bleak meditation on the desolation the season wreaks on the land, with “skeletons of proud black elms/Against the blood red winter sky” as, in a wonderfully poetic image, crows hover “like charred paper/Over a bonfire”. Hidden away at the end of the album is a spoken word track with Georgia reading her mother’s diary extract that birthed the lyrics.
It ends with the six minute vocally double-tracked piano ballad ‘Winning The Game’, here Goldstein on fiddle, a deeply personal song of conflicting emotions (“I love you more when I’m away”) though, given events when, concerned about her increasing erratic and self-harming behaviour, husband Trevor Lucas, took their daughter to Australia without telling her, the line “I won’t stand here in the wings/And wait for the tragedy/I know the last act brings” has a piercingly sad ring.
Her life cut short at 31, this year, Denny would have been 76 – Songbird is a poignant reminder of what the music world lost, bringing to life promises she was never able to fulfil.
Artist’s website: https://talkingelephant.co.uk/product-category/carla-fuchs/