SANDY DENNY – The North Star Grassman and the Ravens (1971)

Review by: Victor Guimarães
Album assigned by: Charly Saenz

The very first Sandy Denny’s album I’ve ever listened to was a perfect match for that particular rainy night I picked for the experience, which was a great surprise in itself. As a good Led Zeppelin fan, I’ve known her name from her part in “Battle of Evermore”, in the over-the-top classical Led album Untitled IV. Sandy was one of the talented musicians behind the legendary band Fairport Convention, one of the pillars of british folk in the 60s, but her tribulations and problem-prone career made her leave the band and, making her long story short, eventually led to this delicate piece of work reviewed here. 

Denny’s vocals are something close to amazing, matching the sophisticated, ethereal, a bit sad and quite dreamy mood of the record.

The starting track, “Late November”, starts following this album sophisticated trend, getting most of the artist’s vocal talent and lyricism as well as displaying great instrumentals, such as guitar and drums. Following, we have Sandy’s beautiful interpretation of traditional Irish folk song “Blackwaterside”. Then, we’ve got “The Sea Captain”, which follows the album dreamy, ethereal atmosphere.

“Down in the Flood” is a Bob Dylan cover that shakes you from the sweet melodies from before to a rockier corner, with great contribution of guitarist Richard Thompson, Denny’s companion in Fairport Convention times. 

The fifth track is “John the Gun”, my favourite on this record. A combined effort of Denny’s talent and Thompson’s support, the song brings in great vocals, guitar riffs and lyrics. Definitely a must-listen, probably worth a spot in a future “Best Of”. 

“Next time around”, a sad love song showing Denny’s vocal talent as well as a very interesting strings arrangement. The seventh track, “The Optimist”, sports a happier melody befitting the title and lifting the spirits after the previous sad song.

“Let’s jump the broomstick”, a version of Brenda Lee song, written by Charles Robbins, is another tribute made by Denny in the album and, such as Dylan’s tribute in the fourth song, brings a different mood to the record, this time with a more country, pop way. 

Next comes “Wretched Wilbur” in a comeback to the folk, ethereal mood, which helps to introduce the title track “The North Star Grassman and The Ravens”. Another great piece of work, the song displays a darker approach as the lyrics seem to be a nice metaphor for death. The second must-listen in the album. Finally, there is “Crazy Lady Blues”, a nice song that gives the listener something more than the classical blues approach one should expect regarding the title, resulting in an upbeat, high-spirited way of finishing this journey to 70s brit-folk scene. 

If you are looking for folk music with a light atmosphere and amazing vocals, The North Star Grassman and The Ravens would be not only a good call, but also an inspiration to listen to Sandy Denny’s solo work and to Fairport Convention.

Author: tomymostalas


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