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Sandy Denny, Steve Goodman Are Still Remembered Warmly

December 24, 1985|ROBERT HILBURN | Times Pop Music Critic

Some albums are released just for the love of it.

Exhibit A: "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," a four-record, boxed set that showcases the work of Sandy Denny, one of the great voices of the contemporary folk movement sparked in England in the late '60s by bands like Fairport Convention.

Exhibit B: "Tribute to Steve Goodman," a live, two-record package featuring John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, John Hartford, Richie Havens and others who joined Jan. 26 in Chicago in a memorial concert for Goodman, one of the warmest and most inspiring of American songwriters.

You expect to see boxed sets or double-album retrospectives devoted to the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan or the Beatles because they are guaranteed sellers, but Denny and Goodman never exactly set the sales charts afire. So, these two new collections were probably put together more with affection than with an eye on profits.

Though Denny frequently was voted the female pop/rock singer of year in England, her numerous albums--both solo and with groups--failed to dent the Top 100 in this country. While Goodman's nostalgic "City of New Orleans" was a hit for Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson, his own LPs, too, fell far short of the Top 100.

But this music has more emotion and grace than most things that do end up on the charts. There's a warmth to both Denny's songs and the tribute album that seems especially appropriate during the holiday season, when families and friends are getting together or when the absence of family and friends particularly can be trying.

Denny, who was 31 when she died in 1978 after an accidental fall down a flight of stairs, was born in London, where she left college in the mid-'60s to pursue a folk singing career. Her first album, as part of the Strawbs band, featured "Who Knows . . . ," which Judy Collins heard and used as the title tune for one of her albums.

Denny, meanwhile, joined the innovative and highly regarded Fairport Convention before she formed her own group, the short-lived Fotheringay and eventually launched a solo career. The new Hannibal Records set includes recordings from all these periods, including alternative versions of songs she released and some tracks previously unreleased.

Denny is best known as a singer, but her songwriting reflected a warm, endearing search for values and relationships.

That search was part of Denny's music from "Who Knows . . . ," one of the earliest songs she wrote, through "Full Moon," a song recorded in 1976 but not released until now.

In the melancholy "Full Moon," she turns to music to lift her spirits:

Gentle music rock away the sadness in me

Rock away my lonely yesterdays

Like pennies on the ocean

'Till no trace of them I see.

There is such a rich, almost overpowering sense of love of people and life in Goodman's music that you get the feeling of a man rushing to experience it all, which may have been the case because Goodman battled leukemia for 15 years until his death last year at 36.

You only find six of Goodman's songs (including "City of New Orleans") on the tribute album, but there is a humor and heart to the other songs and reflections that convey well the spirit of Goodman's ingratiating approach.

Appropriately, John Prine, who met Goodman in Chicago folk clubs before either had a record contract, opens the tribute collection with "Souvenirs," a song that he and Goodman often sang together on stage. It's an evocative reminder to make the most of your time with friends and loved ones.

Sample lyric:

All the snow has turned to water

Christmas days have come and gone

Broken toys and faded colors

Are all that's left to linger on.

Goodman used humor a lot. He loved to poke fun at silliness and conceits. However, the underlying theme of his music was compassion and love. In one of the tribute album's most touching moments, Prine sings "My Old Man," a song Goodman wrote shortly after his father died. Like "Souvenirs," it speaks about loss.

Sample line:

Oh, the fights that we had

When my brother and me got him mad

He'd get all boiled up and start to shout

We knew what was coming, so we tuned him out.

Now the old man is gone

And I'd give all I own

To hear what he said when I wasn't listening

To my old man.

Because both albums are on small, independent labels, you may have trouble finding them in stores. By mail, the Denny collection is available for $23.95 through Carthage Records (P.O. Box 667, Rocky Hill, N.J. 08553), while the Goodman tribute is $15 through Red Pajamas Records (P.O. Box 233, Seal Beach 90740).

MARY CHAIN, PART II--After its wobbly local debut last week at Safari Sam's, the Jesus And Mary Chain tightened things considerably in the first of the Scottish band's two performances Sunday night at the Roxy. The band still didn't exhibit anything in the way of showmanship--the show still carried the feel of an open rehearsal. Bassist Douglas Hart spent the whole 40-minute set with his back to the audience, while guitarist William Reid remained crouched in front of his amplifier.

But singer Jim Reid concentrated on singing rather than stumbling about the stage, and the music carried far more of the haunting color and force that make the group's "Psychocandy" one of the two best British rock albums of the year. Mary Chain, which mixes tuneful pop craft with artfully applied feedback, is a band--in the tradition of the Pistols and Dolls--that is willing to alienate the mass rock audience if need be to create a meaningful pop experience with a more adventurous segment of that audience.

Where the extremeness of the Safari Sam's concert suggested the group may be on a pop suicide run similar to those valuable forerunners, the discipline of the Roxy date indicates the band may in this race for the long haul. If bothers Reid can bring more personality to the stage, Mary Chain may just connect with U.S. audiences after all.

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