For about a year, Iain Matthews and Sandy Denny shared the lead vocal duties with the British group Fairport Convention and were both instrumental in the recording of one of the true masterpieces of '60s folk-rock, 1969's What We Did on Our Holidays. Matthews left the band before their next album, moving on to his own career, while Denny stayed for two more records, reuniting with Matthews on his 1971 effort If You Saw Thro' My Eyes.
Nearly 30 years later, Matthews, along with guitarist Jim Fogarty, singer Lindsay Gilmour, bassist Walt Rich, and drummer Roger Cox, under the name No Grey Faith, pays tribute to the music of his late ex-bandmate with Secrets All Told (The Songs of Sandy Denny). The record understandably concentrates on Denny's post-Fairport work, considering that they recorded just four of her tunes during her first stint with the band, though there are acknowledgments -- instrumental and vocal intros and interludes -- to her signature song, "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," along with Matthews' take on Unhalfbricking's "Autopsy." And though the selections are good ones, the difficulty with a project such as this is that you're dealing with a songwriter who was also a great singer, and whose voice is nearly inseparable from the material. That said, Matthews and Gilmour, who has a lovely, Joan Baez quality, do an admirable job, though it's tough hearing another female voice doing these songs without unfair comparisons. Gilmour is brave to try, and does a nice enough job, though her pristine folkiness occasionally betrays some of the more delicate qualities in Denny's writing.
It's a bit easier to accept Matthews' vocal, which suits his choices quite well. His cuts, especially, "Rising for the Moon" and "Bushes and Briars," are as successful as you could hope, which is a testament, not only to his voice, but to his understanding of Denny's material. Matthews has always had a reputation for his tasteful, but distinctive interpretations of others' work, and the band's acoustic-based arrangements here, for the most part, have that same mix of reverence and personality. Secrets All Told, which is available from his Perfect Pitch label, is recommended to fans of Ian Matthews, but Sandy Denny devotees should also be pleased with this loving tribute.