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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Joan Baez, "Joan Baez"

Joan Baez
"Joan Baez"
Vanguard (1960)

1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die + 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

Remember when we looked at the Almanac Singers' album and I complained that the collection of standards presented didn't properly represent the typical socio-political tracks from the group's repertoire? The same idea is in effect for Joan Baez's self-titled debut. Baez is an artist who, although well-respected by music critics, is perhaps even more well known for her social activism. Her debut is also a collection of standards, but in her defense, these takes on the traditional songs is far more interesting than that of the Almanacs.

Moon hits the nail on the head when he describes why Baez's versions sound so fresh. She has a strong voice, a voice that might normally would sound out of place in the generally quiet genre of folk. Baez balances out her sometimes soaring highs with tremendous lows, almost whispered vocals that sell the downcast moods of tracks like "East Virginia" and "John Riley." The biggest positive to this recording is the proper balance of voice and guitar. There are no other instruments and there doesn't need to be. Baez's voice is the highlight and, accordingly, the volume of the guitar is quiet.

The good news with this collection of standards is that they're drawn from a wide background. There are the American classics of course; Baez tells female-narrated versions of "House of The Rising Sun" and (note the change in title) "Girl of Constant Sorrow." The former doesn't add up to The Animals' classic take, but Baez's feminine version is interesting (it should be noted that the song was originally written in a female voice however). There are a half-dozen standards from the United Kingdom, probably the influence of Baez's Scottish-born mother, and more interesting, the Mexican "El Preso Numero Nueve" (her father being Mexican).

Baez does manage to slip one political song into the mix. "All My Trials" was a popular spiritual (derived from the popular "Hush Little Baby" lullaby). The story of a mother about to pass after "all her trials" was adopted by activists during the '50s as a symbol of upcoming change. "Joan Baez" is a pretty good listen even without the political songs and, in all honesty, Baez's best work was "Diamonds and Rust" (a track dealing with her relationship with Bob Dylan), so the political aspect doesn't make all that much difference.

INTERESTING FACT: Joan has gotten more attention, because society cares more about musicians, but her father Albert Baez deserves some credit as well. Albert is the co-inventor of the x-ray microscope.

"East Virginia"

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