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Fotheringay - Fotheringay 2

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Artist: Fotheringay

Album: Fotheringay 2

Label: Fledg'ling

Review date: Nov. 18, 2008

Fotheringay’s first and, until now, only record is one of the greatest albums of English folk rock. It features some of the most ambitious and moving songs that Sandy Denny, the band’s main singer, ever performed. They were realized with immaculate tastefulness and empathy by a band that included bassist Pat Donaldson, drummer Gerry Conway, and hotshot session guitarist Jerry Donahue. Denny’s boyfriend (later husband) Trevor Lucas, an Australian guitarist with a sepulchral voice, chipped in with two songs and a duet with his love. His salt-of-the-earth take on Dylan’s “Too Much Of Nothing” and the Antipodean outlaw tale “The Ballad Of Ned Kelly” provided just the right level of manly mustache-twirling to contrast Denny’s melancholy yearning.

But Fotheringay was also the work of a doomed band, and its successor Fotheringay 2, a casualty of the machinations that brought about the group’s demise. Despite having a bonded couple at its core, Fotheringay was beset by dissension. Denny had quit Fairport Convention because she wanted to write and record more contemporary material than she was likely to be able to do in an ensemble full of stubborn and creative individuals; her disinclination to tour if it meant being away from Lucas also had a lot to do with it. Her manager, Joe Boyd deemed her musical affiliations with bands and boyfriends to be encumbrances to a promising solo career, and even as he produced Fotheringay, he agitated for her to strike out on her own. As related in his memoir White Bicycles, Boyd should have been careful what he wished for. When he told Denny he planned to take a job in Hollywood after he finished producing Fotheringay’s second album, she broke up the band in a vain effort to keep him around, leaving 2 as a collateral casualty.

Some of the material Denny sang for the second Fotheringay record turned up on her solo LP, The North Star Grassman and The Ravens, while others were re-recorded for other albums or came out years after her death in 1978 on the boxed set Who Knows Where The Time Goes?. Lucas retreated to Australia when Denny passed and died himself 11 years later, while the rest of the band scattered and pursued their separate careers. Fotheringay 2 seemed stillborn until Fledg’ling, a label that strenuously advocates for the myriad branches of the Fairport family tree, staked Donahue the money to salvage what was left.

The result is a mixed bag, marred by some questionable production decisions, from both 1970 and today. The opening track “John The Gun,” which wound up on North Star Grassman, is marred by a rather flabby saxophone solo played by Donahue’s dad, Sam; the Richard Thompson guitar solo that replaced it on Denny’s solo record is so much better that only family ties or archaeological impulses would make you want to hear it the way it was originally recorded. Glassy, anachronous guitar sounds on Denny’s otherwise gorgeous cover of “Wild Mountain Thyme” sound even more inappropriate; the good instincts Donahue brought to crafting guitar leads in 1970 have apparently lapsed thirty-something years down the road.

Fortunately, there aren’t too many other gaffes so egregious, and it’s great to hear six strong Denny performances in one spot. In particular, there is a version of “Silver Threads And Golden Needles” that aces the version she recorded for Rendezvous, and the grimly stirring “Gypsy Davey” and jewel-like “Two Weeks Last Summer” never deserved to be relegated to box-set warehousing, let alone just sitting on a shelf. Trevor Lucas’s contributions, on the other hand, argue the case that Boyd, far from being the worm in Fotheringay’s apple, was right all along. There’s no denying the richness of his singing voice, and he was at the top of his game on Fotheringay. But his contributions to the first record were first and foremost changes of pace. On 2, he’s presented as an equal partner, and that’s simply not the case. One or two tunes like his dudes-keep-trucking anthem “Knights of the Road” or Dylan’s “I Don’t Believe You” would be swell, but five is too many, and saving the longest — the nearly eight-minute-long ballad “Bold Jack Donahue” — for the penultimate track was a serious tactical error. This is the kind of record your CD player’s skip button and programming functions were made for.

But even so, it’s definitely one to hear if you’re already a fan of this stuff. It won’t make you forget Sandy or Unhalfbricking or most of the other records named in this review, but anyone who has followed Denny’s career straight through is already used to taking the bad with the good.

By Bill Meyer

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