Posts Tagged ‘Sandy Denny’

Some days, it seems, the highway of life crawls to a stop due to an ill-placed on- and off-ramp, a la the stretch of Pennsylvania turnpike between the suburban-Philadelphia enclaves of Willow Grove and Fort Washington. For those unfamiliar with that portion of the toll road, the powers-that-be installed an EasyPass-only exit-entrance about halfway between the two stops, which are only four or five miles apart, years ago. The idea, I imagine, was to reduce congestion. The result for those who get on at or before Willow Grove, however, has been quite the opposite thanks to two or three streams of cars now merging into traffic within a few miles.

In fact, that short stretch of highway usually takes half my commute. On a good day, I travel two or three miles in 20 minutes, and then the next 15 (or so) more miles in about the same amount of time. But that madness is routine madness, the kind of thing I and every other commuter has come to expect and begrudgingly accept.

But the madness that happened outside of Manchester Arena on Monday night is of another, horrific dimension. Ariana Grande’s fanbase is, I imagine, mostly teens and preteens; and I’d wager that, for many, the show was their first concert. The lights dimmed, the band kicked in and then Ariana appeared to applause, screams and shouts, and for the next hour and half (give or take) she commanded and directed the hearts and souls of everyone in attendance. I can say that without knowing much about her or her music, actually; anyone who’s been to more than a few shows knows the basic outline. And by night’s end, the 20,000+ fans were undoubtedly happy, content and ecstatic – stoned, in a sense, though not from drugs or drink but the experience.

A fan is a fan is a fan.

The idea that such a venue was a target for attack? It scorches the soul.

While driving home tonight, I listened to the CBS Evening News; KYW-1060AM, Philly’s all-news station, simulcasts it. What struck me was the night’s final report, about the response in Manchester, how everyone of every faith and color came together. The story spotlighted a Pakistani-Muslim cabbie who ferried 20+ young concert-goers wherever they wanted/needed to go at no charge. His own daughter had thought of attending the show, he said, but decided against it due to its proximity to school exams. That response, the outpouring of love and affection, is why those who hate will never win.

With all of that in mind, here’s today’s Top 5: Love, Peace & More. (One note: I’d hoped to start with the obvious, the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” but it’s not on YouTube.)

1) Bobby Darin – “Simple Song of Freedom”

2) Rumer – “What the World Needs Now Is Love”

3) Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – “All I Really Want to Do”

4) Paul Weller – “Going Places”

5) Sandy Denny – “Full Moon”

And two bonuses…

6) Nanci Griffith – “From a Distance”

7) 10,000 Maniacs – “Peace Train”

Today’s top 5 tackles the most Freudian of topics: dreams. Except I’m expanding the topic to include conscious musings in addition to the Dali-esque adventures that come with sleep. Of the former: If I ever win the Powerball, in addition to retiring, Diane and I plan to rent a concert hall and invite our musical favorites to play for us, our family and friends. Of the latter: The other morning I found myself on an uncharted desert isle reminiscent of Gilligan’s.

I don’t remember much, mind you, beyond this: a tiger observed me from the edge of a clearing. And then I awoke… and found my ferocious feline splayed beside me, fast asleep.

Anyway, onward…

  1. Bobby Darin & Petula Clark – “All I Have to Do Is Dream”

2) Dusty Springfield – “Come for a Dream”

3) Paul McCartney – “Country Dreamer”

4) Fleetwood Mac – “Dreams”

5) Sandy Denny – “I’m a Dreamer”

And a few bonuses…

6) Blondie – “Dreaming”

7) The Jam – “Dreams of Children”

8) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Runnin’ Down a Dream”

9) Neil Young – “Dreamin’ Man”

10) Duffy – “Distant Dreamer”

Katie_RoxA few months back I wrote about Sandy Denny, the British folk-rock artist whose oeuvre I’ve begun investigating nearly 30 years after first thinking that I should. As I discovered, and am still discovering, she wrote and recorded many wondrous songs. One that I’ve come to adore is “Moments,” her final studio recording. “These are the moments that we love so well/Precious moments caught within a spell,” she sings at the outset, her sterling vocals imbued with a haunting tenderness.

As my wife Diane can attest, I have a knack for obsessing over bygone songs, albums and artists. Last year it was Dusty Springfield; after a lifetime of loving Dusty in Memphis, I took the plunge and explored the rest of her canon when a YouTube link led me to her rendition of the classic Carole King-Gerry Goffin song “Goin’ Back.” The year before that it was Peggy Lee, and the year before that it was the Original Carter Family, and on through the eras and artists. The main reason why I generally find myself rooting around popular music’s figurative attic: a dearth of new sounds that appeal to me.

That’s not to say there aren’t good works being released. Juliana Hatfield’s latest PledgeMusic effort, Wild Animals, is a rough-hewn jewel; and her upcoming Minor Alps project with Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws has all the earmarks of an instant classic. But I can count on two hands the number of new albums I’ve picked up this year that I listened to more than a few times. And new artists? Even less.

Which is why I was thrilled, in early July, to stumble across up-and-coming Canadian singer-songwriter Katie Rox’s PledgeMusic page. Her Facebook profile offers a succinct summary of her life and career to date, but that’s not what sold me on her. It was her voice, which is pure and sweet, but not too sweet, and her sense of humor – as evidenced by this funny promo…

…for her PledgeMusic project. Her YouTube page also contains a bevy of cool originals and covers, including one of Freddie Fender’s “ Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.”

So, what the hell? I pledged – and not just for the download or CD, but also for a cover song of my choice.

I should mention that cover songs are one of my favorite things to witness in concert – especially off-the-wall, unexpected gems. 10,000 Maniacs closing their set with “To Sir With Love” at WXPN’s Five Star Night benefit in 1992 remains one of my favorite concert memories. There are dozens upon dozens of such songs I could easily have picked for Katie to sing, of course, and I actually considered quite a few, including ones by Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young and Juliana Hatfield.

In the end, though, I went with my current infatuation, “Moments.” Katie’s voice just seemed a perfect fit for it. And I’m glad I did. As she notes in the intro, prior to my request she was unfamiliar with both Sandy Denny and the song (which means she’s with 99.9 percent of people in North America) yet that doesn’t steal from her performance. It’s tentative to start, and understandably so, but by song’s end she’s in the zone: “Cherish deep within you/the love you get today/let the moment linger/for tomorrow steals that away…”

I didn’t just pledge for a song, however. I pledged to support Katie’s project, and with or without “Moments” it would have been money well spent – as evidenced by one of the completed songs, which she made available to her Pledge backers in late July. Titled “Too Late,” it conjures Kasey Chambers (though minus the Aussie accent) circa “The Captain”  with its subtle twang, moody melody and vocals that grow slightly less restrained by song’s end. It’s a stunner.

Diane went with a cool cover, too: Paul Westerberg’s “Things.”

If you like what you hear in Katie’s music, pledge. And if you don’t, hey, that’s cool – but do check out the other artists on PledgeMusic. You may just find someone whose music you’ll one day treasure.

Sandy_DennySome days I contemplate weighing in on politics or the news of the day and whipping up a metaphoric hornet’s nest of debate on these pages. But when it comes time to put words to paper I find myself, instead, contemplating matters that mean more to me than the latest, greatest outrage.

Like music. And fandom. At the end of the day, at least as I’ve lived it, being a fan is about faith, second chances and redemption, about buying the next album regardless of whether I liked the last. It’s sticking with Neil Young after Landing on Water and Bruce Springsteen through the Human TouchLucky Town debacle. It’s about loving a sound that drowns our sorrow and fuels our joy, and that lifts us into orbit for mere minutes at a time. It’s about moments such as the piano version of Juliana Hatfield’s “I Got No Idols,” when she murmurs a meaning so deep and primal into the verses that we can’t help but to hit repeat again and again.

In fact, that’s the song and performance that turned me from a casual fan into a hardcore Hatfield fanatic. And even if you don’t hear what I hear in it? Odds are, if you’re a music fan, you can still relate to my experience.

Such may or may not be the case with my latest obsession, Sandy Denny (1947-78) – a 27-year gap fell between my initial inclination to investigate her music and now, when I find myself hitting replay on certain songs and albums. I first heard her in the fall of 1985, not long after signing on as a deejay for the Folk Show on WPSU, Penn State’s (at the time) student-run radio station. I won’t recount again how or why I wound up spinning folkie laments (interested parties will find that story here), but it’s safe to say that at the start I was ignorant about the form and most of its practitioners. I yanked LPs at random from the folk section of the station’s music library, took suggestions from fellow folk deejays (a few of whom were similarly out of their depths) at our monthly meetings and read, when possible, about the genre. Of course, there were also the listeners. Callers never shied away from sharing their opinions and/or requesting their favorites.

It was through one of those avenues that I stumbled across Fairport Convention, an influential British folk-rock group whose members included, for a time, Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson. Thompson I was slightly familiar with – earlier that year, on the strength of a Rolling Stone review, I bought his Across the Crowded Room album. I thoroughly enjoyed his stiletto-sharp guitar solos and barbed lyrics. But Denny? She was new to me.

As I discovered, however, her dusky alto possessed a clarion, comforting quality, and the songs she wrote and sang were often majestic. The lyrics to the prescient “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?,” for instance, lilted like a centuries-old poem atop a melody that would have been at home in any age.

“Listen, Listen,” a track from her 1972 solo album Sandy, was equally poetic.

I wish I could say that my piqued interest led me to pursue all things Denny, but the everyday vagaries of college life generally require that tough choices and sacrifices be made, and such it was for me. (Back then, of course, to investigate an artist’s canon meant spending time and money; now, more often than not, it’s simply a matter of time – a precious commodity, to be sure, but one that’s easier to budget.) So while I always found room for Fairport and Denny in my Folk Show sets, following up was pushed to some indefinite time in the future.

The far, far future, as it turned out. During my conversation with Susanna Hoffs last year about her Someday album, I asked if her Under the Cover sets with Matthew Sweet influenced the collection, which possesses a distinct ‘60s vibe.

It was the end of a long day of interviews for her, she was tired and rambling. She cited – from Volume I – their version of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?,” commenting that they’d chosen the Fairport Convention version as their model and not Sandy’s own, before launching into similar mini-analyses of several of the other selections. And in that instant the memory of queuing up that song on a decades-old, worn copy of Fairport’s Unhalfbricking LP for the first time in 1985 flashed through my mind.

I still don’t have Unhalfbricking – it’s on my list of things to get. But I have picked up the excellent two-CD compilation No More Sad Refrains, the 1972 Sandy album and what turned out to be Denny’s last, Rendezvous from 1977, as well as a live set from her final tour. (She died of a brain hemorrhage in 1978.) “Wow” is about all I can say. Her vocals on “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?,” are exactly as I remembered, but the lyrics have deepened in meaning – growing old(er) has assured of that, I suppose. To think that she was 19 or 20 when she composed it? It blows my mind.

At some point in the distant future, when we’re dust and our children’s children’s children roam the virtual aisles of their virtual stores, the political battles of the present will be long forgotten and our political leaders mere paragraphs (if that) in history textbooks. Select singers, poets, playwrights and authors, however, will still capture and fuel the public’s imagination, such as Shakespeare, Coleridge and Whitman. Many of my favorites will undoubtedly be swept aside; Sandy Denny, however, will not.