Sandy Denny and the Strawbs “All Our Own Work”
It is telling that during the course of Sandy Denny’s short but illustrious career, she managed to cut two full-length records which, despite remaining unreleased for many years, are nowadays heralded as essential pieces in the puzzle that is British folk-rock. One of these two “rediscovered” LPs was Fotheringay 2, which met a good deal of critical claim when it was put out on CD a few years back, while the other is this: All Our Own Work, the tragically-unreleased debut album that Denny cut with a young, unknown group known as The Strawbs back in 1967, but which failed to see the light of day until Denny had built a name for herself with Fairport Convention.
It is actually rather interesting to place late-sixties Strawbs alongside Fotheringay, as both bands share a number of commonalities outside of Denny’s extraordinary faerie voice. Each group borrows from both British and United States pop and folk-music traditions, and pair Denny’s voice against a strong, distinct male lead…actually, now that I read back over that, Fairport pretty much followed the same formulas, though they quickly shucked off the U.S. influences and contemporary rock and roll material for starker, traditional ballads and old English dance songs. On All Our Own Work, Denny and The Strawbs are still drawing out bits and pieces from mid-to-late sixties radio sounds, as the densely-orchestrated balladry of “You Need Me” and the bouncy, acoustic “Always On My Mind” reveal. There are also many touches of classic psychedelia here that never quite carried over into any of Denny’s other work, such as the droning sitar work on “Tell Me (What You See In Me).”
The songs here are almost uniformly excellent, making it even more of a shame that this album never saw the light of day back when it would have made the biggest impact. It’s hard to select just a few cuts to talk about, as each has its own unique, quirky charms. “How Everyone But Sam Was A Hypocrite” and “Poor Jimmy Wilson” could have easily come from the pen of Ray Davies, while the simple, swirling acoustics on “Two Weeks Last Summer” create an entrancing day-in-the-life head space that could very well have made this one a classic on the folk-psych genre. Perhaps the most historically notable song on here is Denny’s original full-band recording of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” which would soon be put on vinyl first by Judy Collins and later by a Denny-fronted Fairport Convention. There’s a lot of ground covered here considering the constrained palette of sounds that the band conjures, touching on all the best British flavors of the era. On later records, Strawbs would expand their arsenal of instruments considerably, but to hear the band working primarily with acoustic guitars and touches of orchestration is something of a revelation. Sometimes you just have to clear away the clutter and Mellotrons and electric guitars and just let a record breath.
There have been a couple separate reissues of All Our Own Work, released under varying titles, but the most readily available these days is Witchwood Media’s CD issue, which includes not just the original LP but also a wealth of additional cuts from the same sessions. I imagine that this is one of the more obscure Denny releases out there, so if you’re a fan and have yet to hear this – one of her earliest recorded offerings – you are in for quite a treat.