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Joan Baez

JOAN BAEZ REVIEWS:

Joan Baez (1960)
Joan Baez, Vol. 2 (1961)
Joan Baez in Concert (1962)
Joan Baez in Concert, Vol. 2 (1963)
Joan Baez/5 (1964)
Farewell Angelina (1965)
Noël (1966)
Joan (1967)
Baptism: A Journey Through Our Time (1968)
David's Album (1969)
One Day at a Time (1970)
Carry it On (1971)
Blessed Are... (1971)
Come From the Shadows (1972)
Where Are You Now, My Son? (1973)
Gracias a La Vida (1974)
Diamonds & Rust (1975)


Joan Baez (1960)

Album Score: 11

I think there are few things more nauseating in the world of music than a self-righteous musician with the mentality that he or she can sing a song and it'll change everyone. I mean, if there is a song that'll do that, then it probably wouldn't be such a conscious act. That's just the nature of these things...

Anyway, I open that can of worms only to tell you that Baez doesn't come off as a politician in this album. She's just a 19-year-old singing folk covers with a pretty voice and an acoustic guitar. This album, as usually it is with folk, was remarkably simple to record. It took four days in a dirty hotel room and all they needed was two microphones --- one for the acoustic guitar and another for her voice. Probably the most famous album of this sort (on these circles of the Internet) is Bob Dylan's 1962 album, but Dylan at least had extended the courtesy of a third instrument: a harmonica. Also, Dylan's album tended to be humorous and playful. Baez, on the other hand, does everything with a straight face. She's dead serious --- intent with purpose to play folk to the best of her abilities. However, the nice thing about Baez in this debut is that she frequently does come off extremely well. She also frequently comes off as boring. Lemme elaborate.

She opens the album with what's probably her most celebrated cover, "Silver Dagger." This is a composition with a nice melody and lyrics, which dates back to the late 1800s. She plucks her acoustic guitar nicely and she gives a pretty vocal performance; she's utterly captivating and the result is a remarkably pleasant listen! Even better, in my opinion, is the follow-up "East Virginia." It's much slower and Baez is touching. Her singing style seems especially suited for these kinds of haunting songs, and her acoustic guitar is especially hypnotic. Even better than that one is the utterly gorgeous lullaby "All My Trials," which for my money is the album's highlight. That song was covered frequently by other folk revivalists, but I think this might just be the definitive version. Well, it dances circles over the Pete Seeger and Peter Paul and Mary anyway. Baez's voice is especially gorgeous, and it compliments the melody and the lullaby tone perfectly.

It's a shame that not all the songs are as nice, however! This album is unfortunately plagued with a few so-so choices in song covers and Baez's inexperience with recording. I'll point out the English folk song "John Riley." I doubt it was great to begin with, but Baez doesn't do it any favors with a relatively bland vocal rendition and doing nothing interesting with the guitar strumming. The more I try to fight my attention span while listening to that song, the more tiresome it gets. Luckily, it doesn't grow to the point of *tedium* ... not quite. But Baez certainly failed to give it life. Her cover of "House of the Rising Sun" might be good to point out, because we have Dylan's version to compare it to. Dylan was lively and spirited, but Baez sounds like a weak mouse in comparison. It's just lacking ... especially considering it has one of the album's better melodies. While I like her voice most of the time, sometimes it has a way of attacking my ear drums. It would get even worse in the sequel, but here we have those nearly unbearable high notes in "Fare The Well (Or Ten Thousand Miles)." Uncomfortable!

Even though all of these are folk covers, she does a nice job picking from a variety of sources. She chooses not just from American and English songs, but there's the Spanish "El Preso Numero Nueve," the Yiddish "Donna Donna" and the Irish "Fare Thee Well." Some of them date back a loooong time. To my knowledge, the oldest piece is "Mary Hamilton" from the 1500s.

This is an enjoyable and respectable first album. There were some significant shortcomings that she might have done well to improve, but I guess the circumstances of the recording prevented that.

Read the track reviews:
Joan Baez


Joan Baez, Vol. 2 (1961)

Album Score: 6

One reason I'm glad I'm reviewing these Joan Baez albums back-to-back is that I know, for a definitive fact, that this is *a lot* worse than her debut album. If I waited a week, I might have just assumed that Joan Baez was always a pile of crap or that I grossly overrated the debut. But I'm reviewing these albums on the exact same day, and this is MUCH WORSE. Indeed, it's so much worse that I have a hard time believing it. I have absolutely no idea how someone who gave us such nice folk music in her debut could go, a year later, and record something that's so horrible that I get a bitter taste in my mouth even thinking about it. I am not kidding, either. It's un-freaking-believable. I am not exaggerating. If anything, I'm being as nice as possible.

I even listened to these albums for the first time back-to-back, and I could clearly tell where the last album ended and this one began by how sucky the music suddenly became. It wasn't subtle, either, to even the slightest degree. The border was as obvious as the Berlin Wall. What happened, Joan Baez???

Listening to this last night, I couldn't take it anymore. I wanted so badly to turn it off, but I couldn't because I was a prisoner of it. I had to listen to it, because I *had* to review it to fill up a discography gap on my site. After all, it's the unwritten law. To entertain myself, I mocked it. After I realized that that wasn't making the album any better to listen to, I got angry and started telling Joan Baez to shut up. SHUT UP!!!!!! SHUT. UP. (Quietly though--- I don't want my family members to think that I became schizophrenic all of the sudden.) It was even worse when I had to listen to this album directly to write the track reviews.

I tried my best to score the tracks fairly. To Baez's credit, much of it has some degree of tastefulness. I couldn't legitimately call every song bad. However, I'll tell you that she was definitely not trying to be my friend with the first two tracks. The a cappella opener "Wagoner's Lad" with openly feminist lyrics was designed specifically to sound self-important. I have nothing against feminism, but I have something against self-important pretentiousness. The following song, "The Trees They Do Grow High" thankfully brings back the acoustic guitar, but I honestly cannot say I find it anymore interesting than the previous song.

These might be bad songs, but nothing can prepare you for the atrociousness of "Banks of the Old Ohio." I always believed that Joan Baez was a tasteful musician, but after listening to that song, her image is forever tarnished in my mind. I mean, it is so abysmally horrible that I cannot believe for one second how it was even possible. She brings in a hillbilly vocal group whose voices are unrefined tenors. I'm sure these guys sounded great in other contexts, but not here. They do not mix whatsoever with Baez's sweet soprano. To make matters even worse, even if it could get worse, they are all singing off key. This song isn't just *a little bit* bad. It is offensive. I am not kidding.

Finally a decent song pipes up in the final third, "The Cherry Tree Carol," and then the album sort of fizzles out with a trio of regular-boring folk songs. It's unfortunate that Baez couldn't even deliver a mere hint of songs like "All My Trials" from the debut, but I guess she wanted her sophomore album to actually be sophomoric. I swear, this album threatens to steal everything that's good about living. If you don't believe me and you're not willing to heed my warnings, then have a listen for yourself. You'll hate living, too!

Uncannily, the bonus tracks provide what's easily the best moments of the album. I was possibly overrating those, but listening to "I Once Loved a Boy" and "Poor Boy" after sitting through such a wasteland of an album is like drinking cool water after nearly dying of thirst. It's like Baez was apologizing to us for making this idiot album. I'm not sure that I can accept it. (At least I can laugh in the end for the unintentional effect that "I Once Loved a Boy" and "Poor Boy" being placed next to each other. Ah, lovely!)

Read the track reviews:
Joan Baez, Vol. 2


Joan Baez in Concert (1962)

Album Score: 10

This might be a live album, but it is not much different than her studio albums. There's not much to be done in the studio with folk music, anyway, and this live album has just about the same sonic quality. She doesn't sing any of her earlier studio numbers, so this was obviously meant as a ploy to keep her out of the studio! There's just the odd applause in the background, and some annoying sing-a-longs. Granted, the audience performances are much less annoying than The Greenbriar Boys, and don't think I'm not appreciating *that*. Of course, it proves that folk fans are dorks, but I already knew that. You don't need to scientifically prove that folk fans are dorks for the same reason you don't need to scientifically prove that women and men are different. It's a fact of life. (Yet, there are still scientists who go around proving that men and women are different. I bet they're folk fans.)

Oh, and by every account, this live album is one big hunk of good news. Yes indeed; this album is actually tolerable. Baez recovered from the sludge pile that was Joan Baez, Vol. 2 and actually recorded a handful of decent songs! Yeah, it's boring, but this is folk music; it's supposed to be boring! But this is non-offensive, and that's all I ask. One of the side-effects of being boring is the intrinsic inability to be innovative. She's still doing the same old, same old. There's no way this is more interesting than her debut, and that just makes reviewing these Baez albums more taxing.

The first three songs are easily the best, and the rest of the album you can pretty much just write off. The opening track provides what's the only historical interest most music fans place in Joan Baez: "Babe I'm Going to Leave You" was later covered by Led Zeppelin. They heard Baez's version and thought they could make it nice! "Geordie" is the complete highlight of the album. An English folk song, it has a beautiful melody, and Baez delivers a wonderful and frank vocal performance. "Black Kettle" is also an excellent cover, which is notable for also appearing on a Bob Dylan album, and one of the album's sheer highlights.

"Kumbaya" consists of the low-point of the album. My original review consisted of elaborate rants against that song, but it's relatively inoffensive compared to that crapola from Joan Baez, Vol. 2. Also, "Matty Groves" is more than seven minutes long and worse for it, but surprisingly she only bores me to tears a little bit there. Since Joan Baez albums are rated by a level of boringness, I have to say this one could have done much worse here. These 16 songs make OK listens.

Read the track reviews:
Joan Baez in Concert


Joan Baez in Concert, Vol. 2 (1963)

Album Score: 10

Luckily, the second volume of her live shows didn't take a similar turn for the worse as her her second studio album. Apart from a generally more palatable selection of covers, she doesn't make any improvements, either. This is just another album featuring Joan Baez being boring with the folk classics.

Maybe this album was meant to exhibit "the lighter side of Joan Baez," considering it contains such hilarious antics as her taking her shoes off and reciting a poem. The only reason I know that she's making wisecracks is because the audience laughs. Maybe she was making funny faces or something. Ah, no she wasn't. Poor Joan is as funny as cancer. This sheds the world of light on her personality: She really is dull. "Hush Little Baby" is an especially good example of her boringness. What would possess anyone to sing such a well-known song? Perhaps to do something with it that's never been done before. In 1968, The Beach Boys took an old folk classic "Pick a Bale of Cotton" and turned it into something wholly unique and wonderful. But not Baez. She sings it plainly and without any sort of personality or emotion. What a boring, boring, boring person. If it wasn't for her highly publicized political protests, she probably wouldn't be known today.

But all that aside, I'm here to review the album, and that's exactly what I'm going to do. As usual, Baez is only as good as the songs that she's covering, and luckily she chooses mostly nice ones. She's even covering Dylan here (who she dated at one point), and managed to sing "With God On Our Side" before The Times They Are a-Changin' was even released. I contend that her real strength lies with the old English and Scottish ballads, since the nature of them fits best with her haunting soprano. "Jackaroe" is surely one of the album's main highlights! Not that she's not good with the Americana stuff... She's fine...

This is a remarkably consistent album. It's so consistent that it's BORING, and having to sit through 19 tracks of this stuff isn't nearly as rewarding as it ought to be. Nonetheless, everything on here is tasteful and (I wince at saying it) respectable. It's even slightly better than the previous installment thanks to the better song picks! OK, this review is over. ...Geez, I need to get a life.

Read the track reviews:
Joan Baez in Concert, Vol. 2


Joan Baez/5 (1964)

Album Score: 10

The overwhelming good news is that this isn't nearly as much of a bore to sit through as the concert albums. One reason for that is unquestionably its shorter running length. Also, the album has some remarkable high points even though the low points do all they can to drag this album's score down. In the end, it's just gonna be another 10. It was a near-11, but I didn't like it enough to bump it up. (I am such a nerd that I calculate these scores mathematically based on the track reviews. It was right on the border.)

The diversity is what makes this, technically, Baez's least boring album to date. When she brings in the cellos and violins for "Bachianas Brasileras No. 5" I think I accidentally died or something. For once, Baez does something other than sing with an acoustic guitar!! Don't think I don't appreciate her folk work --- I feel like I'm appreciating this as much as humanly possible -- but this change of pace was an awesome idea. That song itself might not have been the finest, but it doesn't matter as much as the change of pace. Even bringing in a banjo for "The Tramp on the Street" and a second guitar for "Long Black Veil" turned out to be phenomenal good ideas.

However, the historical value of this album is usually discussed more than the musical merits --- and for good reason. One historically important protest song "Birmingham Sunday" is about the infamous 1963 Birmingham church bombings. She had already covered songs, such as "The Death of Emmet Till" that dealt with important events leading up to the burgeoning Civil Rights protests, but this one happened extremely recently. I like the lyrics (the repetition of "the choir kept singing of freedom" was excellent, I thought), but it's a shame that the actual musical quality of it isn't very interesting. It's just another Joan Baez song to fall asleep to. Listening to Joan Baez albums becomes even less essential especially since she covers songs like "I Still Miss Someone" by Johnny Cash. It's apparent that she had no interest in trying to give the rendition life and spunk that the original surely had. Not helping matters much are relatively boring Medieval covers such as "The Death of Queen Jane" and "The Unquiet Grave." You might recognize the latter as being one of the songs from my favorite Medieval covers band, Gryphon. I guess that goes to show you that a goofy, mostly forgotten prog band is better than Joan Baez.

But there are some more extremely wonderful highlights. The album opener has both historical AND aesthetic value. Phil Ochs, who was blacklisted at this time, wrote "There But For Fortune," which is just about the most compelling song Baez has ever done. She covers Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe," which is surely one of the album's highlights, but that's just more proof that there's no reason to listen to Baez's flat interpretations. Nonetheless, this is a recommendable album as far as these things go. At least she's beginning to show signs of not boring me to tears...

Read the track reviews:
The Album


Farewell Angelina (1965)

Album Score: 11

Prepare yourself for a shock. Take out your copy of Farewell Angelina and play the first track. OK, are you doing that? Good. Listen very closely to it --- put on headphones if you need to. Do you notice something unusual? Something that sounds starkly out-of-place for a Joan Baez song? If you don't, let me spell it out for you: HOLY CRAP, THERE IS SOMEONE PLAYING A BASS!!! No, I'm not talking about a fish. I'm talking about one of those deep-toned instruments. It's an electric one at that. Holy mother of mothers, THERE'S AN ELECTRIC BASS GUITAR ON A JOAN BAEZ ALBUM!! I mean, she's still playing the same old folk songs, but there's some bass now. Even more subtly, you can even hear an electric guitar player. Well, I wholeheartedly welcome these new sounds just like I welcome sweet death. (Hopefully I'll stop feeling so depressed once I'm finished with these Joan Baez reviews.)

And the funniest thing of it all is that I actually reviewed this album a few years ago, and I didn't even notice these instruments. She was very sneaky about it. It almost happened to me again. I listened to the first two tracks without noticing, and then I put on headphones for the third, and I heard the bass as clear as a bell. The electric guitar is more subtle, but I heard that too. And I thought: WHOAH!.... It blew my mind!!! I almost forgot what those instruments sounded like after going through the earlier five Baez albums like this back-to-back. So, I guess this experience goes to show that the only proper way to listen to this album is with headphones. This is a huge improvement considering the only proper way to listen to her previous albums was with the volume turned off. (You know I'm only kidding, right? Geez, it's like I have to take my shoes off to get a folk fan to chuckle.)

Also helping matters greatly is the fact that Baez is coving Dylan so often now. Four of these tracks are his! "Farewell Angelina" and "Daddy, You Been on My Mind" were both gifts for Baez. "Farewell Angelina" is on his Bootleg Series, and as far as I'm aware he never recorded the other one. Interestingly, the guy who quietly played the electric guitar on this album was Bruce Langhorne, the subject of "Mr. Tambourine Man." So, this is certainly a nice historical pick for Dylan fans!

I should mention that this is a nice album to get for the music, too! Somehow, this doesn't surpass the charm of her 1960 debut, but the added instrumentals certainly helped sonic matters. This is a much less boring folk album as a result. Luckily, this would also be Baez's last folk album for awhile, so I feel like being extra nice to it. Certainly the four Dylan songs are great. In addition to the two already mentioned, she does a solid cover of "It's All Over Now Baby Blue," but her touching rendition of "Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is an especially nice highlight. The superiority of all the Dylan compositions compared to everything else is almost staggering although not exactly surprising. She also takes a moment to turn to contemporary British folk with Donovan's "Colours." She doesn't do it better than the original, but that's no great shakes. For some odd reason, she records Pete Seeger's "Where Have all the Flowers Gone?" in German. Er... OK.

Naturally, it wouldn't be a proper Baez album if there weren't a few pangs of sheer boredom, and Baez follows the prescription to the letter! Luckily, they're relatively minor boring spots. "Pauvre Rutebauf," while nice, only inspires me to sit in my seat and shrug. "Satisfied Mind" introduces a mandolin for the first time ever in a Baez album, but somehow that doesn't make it any more interesting to hear. Surely, Woody Guthrie had a nice song with "Ranger's Command," but Baez's rendition is flat and uninspired. Despite these minor complaints, this is a good album, and these lowlights are definitely not the worst that has ever happened to Baez's discography. So hear this album for the Dylan compositions, and make sure you're listening to them with headphones so that you can hear the bass. I mean, the bass player was no Donald Duck Dunn; I'm more grateful that there merely *is* one.

Read the track reviews:
Farewell Angelina


Noël (1966)

Album Score: 10

Normally, I skip reviewing Christmas albums, because they're generally throwaway and I have no interest in hearing the 6,000th recording of "Jingle Bells." However, Joan Baez is an exception. She takes her Christmas album as stone-cold-serious as everything else -- This is certainly no kiddie album! So, let's take a look. The obvious thing to mention is that she elaborated on "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5" from Joan Baez/5 and hired a classical composer to do all the arrangements. Thus was born the first non-folk Joan Baez album! Yaaaaaaay. The instrumentals consisting of cellos, strings, lutes, flutes, trumpets, jangly things, etc. are rather typical for the genre and perhaps more minimal than you'd expect, but they're usually done nicely.

We'd might as well learn this arranger's name, Peter Schickele, because would work closely with Baez on her following two albums. He's also an interesting person... He's best known as a classical musical parodist known as P.D.Q. Bach. I watched a video attributed to him on YouTube that consisted of an extremely effeminate man singing in a high-pitched operatic voice and picking random pieces of fruit out of a tree. So, his humor isn't exactly "sophisticated." He started his act already by this point, so maybe this just proves Baez likes to be near funny people because it evens out the space. Oh... and there's nothing funny about his arrangements except possibly that Gryphon-esque rendition of "Deck the Halls."

Unfortunately, the most fitting term I can use to describe these songs is: museum-boring. Sure, it's 100 percent tasteful and classy, but it's rarely engaging. Surely, these arrangements could have been spicier. There seems to have been an intrinsic refusal to develop textures and atmospheres. I mean, why does there have to be a one-handed harpsichordist on "Coventry Carol;" why does "Away in the Manger" have to sound so twinklingly sleep-inducing; why does "Silent Night" have to be so awkward? I suppose it's an unfortunate fact that most Christmas albums are like this. For example, I tried to find other versions of "I Wonder as I Wander" on Rhapsody from celebrities such as Barbara Streisand and Linda Ronstadt, but I'm afraid Baez was about as good as it gets. Hm. Now I remember why I don't review Christmas albums.

Despite it, I do actually like the album. This seems to be more of a showcase for Baez's voice. For those purposes, this album worked well. The song selection sticks almost exclusively to low-key Medieval ballads, which I always said was her strength. Her wobbly soprano voice has never had a more comfortable home than it has here. I wouldn't be much of a man if I didn't point out her angelic singing on "Ave Maria." Also, there are a few other lovely instances such as "What Child is This" and "The Little Drummer Boy." For some reason our arranger friend brought in brief instrumental clips such as "Deck the Halls" and "Angels We Have Heard on High." I have nothing against them, and at least they keep the album moving along (with a whopping 17 tracks in 40 minutes). Useless but harmless. And, as I said, one of them is Gryphon-esque!!

If you must own a Christmas album, and you don't mind getting depressed, then this is a safe bet. Personally I'd just assume resorting to real classical music, but Joan Baez's stuff is ... uh ... nice. It's underwhelming, but that only means that it fits in well with her discography.

Read the track reviews:
Noël


Joan (1967)

Album Score: 11

This album is titled "Joan" just in case you never learned her first name. This is also effectively a combination between Farewell Angelina and Noël. She returns to covering folky tunes, but she retains the arranger Peter Schickele meaning that Baez actually recorded a contemporary album with complicated arrangements! (A miracle!!) Schickele is even given a chance to be more creative, and I wish he would have experimented more up there in the Christmas album! Let's look at a few of the more shining examples of his work. His texture in Edgar Allen Poe's "Annabel Lee" is utterly mesmerizing, and surely his greatest accomplishment with Baez. However, I hope even he would admit that he was too over-the-line with the "artsy" treatment of "Eleanor Rigby." .......Oh but this is a Joan Baez album. What am I doing talking about some other guy? I can answer that question: He's a lot more interesting than Baez! Not that it's a difficult feat to accomplish.

This album also features two songs each from Donovan and Tim Hardin. The Hardin covers don't seem to come off ideally, but the Donovan covers are nice, especially "Turquoise," which features a catchy melody and an involved texture. The Jacques Brel cover, "La Colmb," was an excellent choice, since everything that Brel ever wrote is cool, and it's going to be cool even if Joan "Boring" Baez sings it. Besides, she manages to deliver an excellent vocal performance, anyway! It matches the dramatics of the source material to the letter. (I haven't heard the original song, but Brel has a distinct flavor.) I like Schickele's instrumental work very very much on that one; those textures he creates with the violin, horns and bombastic cymbals is classic! But that transition to that bit with the militaristic beat in the first chorus... hmmm....... I can't get used to it. Well, this song fully deserves the A+ anyway. Brilliance!!

This is also where Joan Baez the singer-songwriter begins. Oh, she'll still be littering her albums with half-witted covers until her dying day, but her first two compositions ever are here in this album. They're not that great, unfortunately, and they lent a hand in keeping the album score well away from a 12. I'm positive that the only reason "North" is good is because of Schickele's arrangements. Her melody is alright and her voice is pretty, but it's overly simple and timid. Her "Saigon Bride" is easily the weakest spot of the album. The melody isn't even likable; it's only Schickele's orchestral swells that keeps it on its toes. I'm also not the biggest fan of her Simon & Garfunkel cover, "Dangling Conversation," which isn't even *close* to being as captivating as the original. However, the seven-minute "The Greenwood Slide" ought to have been bad news, but it turned out to be a remarkably engaging ballad. So, is this a good album? You beat it is!! It's kinda close to a 12... I wish that Baez would have done a bit more to deserve it.

Read the track reviews:
Joan


Baptism: A Journey Through Our Time (1968)

Album Score: 7

If people actually cared about Joan Baez's music, this would be considered a hugely controversial album. It consists of Baez reading poetry ranging from famous old writers as Henry Blake and Walt Whitman to less famous contemporary writers such as Henry Treece. All of this nonsense is done over Peter Schickele modern/minimalist arrangements. Baez continues to be worthy of her undisputed title as Ms. Plain Unflavored Yogurt; she tends to read everything like she's dictating a shopping list. Comparisons to the stereotypical, untalented art-teenager from high school immediately spring to mind. Honestly, I don't know how anyone would have made an album like this likable, but that's not my job. I'm just here to tell you that this is an awful album and then take some more pisses.

It's funny that this is the second Joan Baez album in a row where she seemed to do nothing but get in the way. Peter Schickele's arrangements are especially artistic here, and I kept trying to filter out her spoken-word poetry. Luckily, there are other singing bits, but only two of them were especially good. The album opener, "Old Welsh Song," has a minimalist arrangement and Baez is singing like she's spaced out. I'd imagine that most people would hate this, but I enjoyed it. The sheer highlight of the album, however, and the only one in which Baez seems to be actually contributing something constructive, is "The Magic Wood." The arrangements are rather involved, and Baez's singing voice actually seems rather pretty! Like a real musical instrument!! It's a miracle!!!

But these highlights tend to be grossly isolated events. Looking at the track reviews, the vast majority of them received Cs. Some songs like "Songs of the Blood" and "From Portrait of the Young Man" featured rather excellent arrangements, but Baez's pretentious poetry readings murdered them without remorse. Some of the other singing tracks "Oh Little Child" and "All the Pretty Little Horses" still manage to be boring, and they don't feature Shickele's finest orchestration work. Grrr... If it's not one thing, it's another!!

So, this album is definitely as bad as it you probably think it is. The sad thing is I probably like this more than most people; I went through a modern classical music phase about six months ago, so I enjoyed hearing many of the arrangements. Now that Baez murdered the art of poetry, at least she has now made her ultimate statement of pretentiousness, so that's out of her system. She'd go onto record Bob Dylan covers next, Any Day Now, which I don't have access to. So, next review is ... er ... country-western.

Read the track reviews:
Baptism: A Journey Through Our Time


David's Album (1969)

Album Score: 8

So the story goes that her then-husband was locked up in jail for resisting the draft, and Baez recorded this album full of country-western songs as a gift. This also happened to be the time the roots-rock scene was at its height, but ... I guess it was a "gift" and she was going to do it anyway. No, Baez isn't a bandwagon jumper. Not even a little bit I'm not being sarcastic. ... Or maybe I *am* being sarcastic! It's a well-known fact, Joan Baez has a lifetime bandwagon bus pass. (I'm ignoring certain "Baptisms" since that was just stupid and not exactly an original idea.)

This album isn't necessarily bad as such, but it's definitely lacking. Given, all of Baez's albums have been lacking, and it's no surprise that this one has been branded with her same signature. But I'll tell you that David's Album is especially lacking. Who wants to hear Joan Baez sing 1,000 country-western cliches? ........... *cricket, cricket, cricket*. I didn't think so!!!! (If you said "yes," I'll ... well ... I'll have you know that I'm making a face at you right now.) Baez takes such a hint from The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo that she's actually recording another version of it. She even covers a Gram Parsons song "Hickory Wind," further solidifying the Byrds connection.

So what about this album, then? The music is bland. And the music is boring. And the music is meaningless. And there is no reason to hear this. No reason. NO REASON. NO!! REASON!!!!!! ... Sure, Baez continues to be generally tasteful and the album isn't offensive to my ears. That's saying something, because country-western just isn't enjoyable for me. (However, her attempts to deliver a soulful vocal delivery in "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" wasn't so much embarrassing as a bad idea. Usually, you're going to need a personality to pull something like that off.)

Don't think for one second that I dislike the fact that she's giving these covers orchestration, but there's little about them that rises above mediocrity. There's the slide guitar doing what you think it would do; there's a honky tonk playing what you'd think it would play; there's Baez singing how you'd think she would try to sound. There's nothing surprising, nothing beautiful, nothing meaty. David's Album is a big fat nothing. If she's going to record music like this, then there's no reason to listen to her. I opened myself up to Joan Baez and her album, and she gave me nothing in return. Pity.

I can't let this end on such a negative note, because there are some nice things I can say. The opening track and "Poor Wayfaring Stranger" are both enjoyable middle-of-the-road affair. The latter especially has a nice chugging beat and a melody to boot. Despite that, if you're expecting anything particularly memorable out of those two tracks, you're not going to find it. So much for ending this review on a positive note.

Read the track reviews:
David's Album


One Day at a Time (1970)

Album Score: 10

This is a monumental improvement over her lackluster David’s Album. Whereas the previous album had no reason to exist, this one actually makes quite a wonderful listen. This album also marks the occasion of the beginning of Baez’s successful foray into singer-songwriting. (It was only going to be a matter of time before Baez would have to start writing her own material --- covers artists were becoming more or less unfashionable by the start of the ?s. You know Baez--- following the fashions!) Anyway, the big original composition is “Sweet Sir Galahad.” She doesn’t know more than a few chords and didn’t bother writing anything as trivial as a “chorus,” but it’s a pleasant and flowing work that is easy to sit back and soak up.

She continues to be an enormously limited performer, which is no surprise. Her only musical asset, her voice, continues to be nice to listen to! But, her arrangement and instrumental innovations continue to be as inspiring as poop. The utilitarian instrumentals aren’t inspired whatsoever and, especially in the case of the slide guitar, hopelessly generic. Some of the covers she chose were quite nice ones… “Ghetto” is a very convincing song with the right amount of jazz piano. Others, like an entirely unneeded cover of The Stones’ “No Expectations” are merely so-so. “Jolie Blonde” is so weird that Baez didn’t even bother singing on it … and it’s not like she figured out how to arrange her songs or find more-than-mediocre instrumentalists for it!

I’d say listening to any Joan Baez album is largely pointless … She has a pretty voice but the musical sense of a mackerel, which is a quality I despise in any musician. However, this album is one of her nicer ones… At least I can sit back in my easy chair and expect to be not offended.

Read the track reviews:
One Day at a Time


Carry it On (1971)

Album Score: 4

Just when you think Joan Baez couldn’t get any dumber, she goes and does something like this … AND TOTALLY REDEEMS HERSELF!!!!!!!! She even enlists the help of her then-husband, David Harris, who makes Baez sound like Plato. I should mention that this is a soundtrack to a movie that Baez and Harris starred in that probably doesn’t exist anymore. It currently has a rating of 2.6/10 on imdb.com, which offers a hint at its crappiness. However, I listened to the soundtrack of it, and I can tell you that the movie SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IT SUCKS, IT SUCKS, IT SUCKS!

How can I be so sure? Because Baez provides us with some sound bytes from the movie, and they’ve soiled my ears for the rest of my life. David Harris should silence his self-important vocal chords before he turns everyone into conservatives out of spite! This would-be beatnik likes philosophy as long as it’s a narrow abstraction of its broadest themes, and he wants to show people how smart he is by discussing them with an “ooo look at my big words” vocabulary. He dodged the draft because of America’s flawed society (it wasn’t because Vietnam was too hot and he might break a sweat or anything), and he had to spend three years in jail for that, which was an unjust punishment according to him! More than that, he claims he *invented* draft dodging. He talks in a snotty voice, he takes himself more seriously than AIDS, and he’s an absolute bore in the process. My overwhelming feeling is that anyone who ever took him seriously was an idiot. (If that was you, blame it on the drugs, and then space out for the next 15 minutes. You’ll be OK when you’re dead.) Oddly enough, this guy is such a twit that it’s easy to ignore a sound byte directly from Baez who ACTUALLY tells us that she’s not trying to be an entertainer but intellectually engage her audience in current affairs. I would spend another paragraph discussing this fallacy, but it seems I’ve run out of poison to spit at her! Way to use your husband to take punches for you.

All that said, Mr. Harris is not why the album is so bad. These songs are absolutely the worst and amazingly inept concoction ever assembled on a Joan Baez album thus far. That’s surprising since all of her previous albums have at least been professional. This is just a mess. It’s not like she’s trying anything new… She’s returning to the acoustic guitar only format she did ever since the beginning! She should be an expert by now! WHAT HAPPENED??? To be fair, there are a few decent bits here and there… Naturally, the Dylan song “Love is Just a Four-Letter Word” is awesome. But then there’s crapola like “Do Right Woman…” featuring Baez giving an awful duet. “Carry it On” isn’t so horribly sung, but Baez forgets how to properly strum a guitar. Be gentle!! Others are just usual folk ditties that aren’t offensive as they are BORING. More boring than usual, I fear.

However, Baez doesn’t lay the *real* turd until the 13th and final ditty. Interestingly, it’s one of the songs she’s most famous for singing: “We Shall Overcome.” If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was trying to give it an avant-garde performance. Her vocals are uncharacteristically sloppy and frequently ear-piercing. It’ll make you grate your teeth! It is so bad that it *depresses* me. To make matters even worse, Baez (no joke) tells the audience that her rendition of the song is going to be beautiful! She had no idea how out-of-touch she was, and completely off-base. Not exactly the voice of the Civil Rights movement you would have hoped for.

Despite all the words I spent on this review, all that needs to be said can be summed up in a short sentence: Avoid this album if you value your life.

Read the track reviews:
Carry It On


Blessed Are... (1971)

Album Score: 10

As you know, the last Joan Baez album I reviewed upset me greatly. I was ready to finally do what I should've did long ago with Baez: Not listen to her anymore. But after delving deeply into her follow-up album, Blessed Are… I feel like I have to make peace with her. I can’t say I was looking forward to listening to it; it’s a double album, which means I have to spend twice the time listening to it than I would have otherwise. Considering that Baez’s discography is very off-and-on (for every Farewell, Angelina, there’s a Baptism), I was worried that this would be one of her annoying albums. It wasn’t. As a matter of fact, I find it to be quite good!

I know it’s predictable of me to say that if Baez concentrated the good material to a single album, she would have had the best album of her career by far … but it must be said! This mythical 40-minute LP still would have been undeniably trite and cheapish, but it would have been pleasant, very consistent and incredibly likable. Even given that, there aren’t a great number of horrible songs on Blessed Are…, and it’s nearly easy to forget about those. All things considered, there are only three tracks that qualify as *bad*. “The Brand New Tennessee Waltz” is a musically challenged country-western ditty, “Angeline” is hopelessly dull and so is “Gabriel and Me.”

The biggest surprise is that Baez writes 11 of these songs (unprecedented in both number and percentage in her career) and most of them are quite good. Even compared to “Sweet Sir Gallahad,” I would never have suspected that Baez would have been capable of something like “Blessed Are” featuring a modestly beautiful melody, polished instrumentation and strong development. It’s straight-laced and not very creative, but it’s all and more that we’ve ever wanted from her. Baez tapped into a really beautiful vibe when she sang “Outside the Nashville City Limits.” It doesn’t start out that well, but when it gets going, it’s very charming. The lyrics are even well-done there with its descriptive narrative about being in the Tennessee countryside. “The Hitchhiker’s Song” is another one that starts out poor, but once it gets going, it’s frankly rather special.

But it isn’t until the end when Baez gives us the real gem of the album, “Fifteen Months.” (Funny, it seems like I’m writing the exact opposite of what I wrote about Carry it On, which ended with her barely listenable rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”) That one is has exceedingly good orchestration (a billion times better than I thought Baez would be capable of… even after hearing the previous 19 tracks on the album), and *gasp* real creativity. … Despite these surprisingly fantastic songs, I don’t want to go too far in overrating them. As I hinted earlier, many of them come off as musically trite. The inclusion of a Beatles cover, “Let it Be,” really put Baez’s lack of memorable melodies in perspective.

As proof that Baez should experiment with her songwriting more, the covers end up coming off a lot worse than the originals, and I already mentioned a few of them! Some highlights are her well-regarded cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which is too pedestrian my tastes. “San Francisco Mabel Joy” is a tuneful song that’s also well developed. And then Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make it Through the Night” is a surprisingly alluring song with some nice guitar plucking.

So, this is an excellent album! It’s certainly a comforting release especially after Carry it On nearly made me hate music.

Read the track reviews:
Blessed Are...


Come From the Shadows (1972)

Album Score: 11

Thank God Joan Baez sold out! It’s supposed to be the other way around, but Baez really benefited from expensive studios and the discretion of the money-hungry A&M executives. That combined with Joan Baez’s recent trend of emerging as an accomplished songwriter makes this one of her best albums this far. A few weaker moments keep this from topping her debut album or Farewell, Angelina, but it’s pretty close. Heck, I almost feel glad that I decided to review her discography, which is the exact opposite of what I was thinking after reviewing Carry it On (strangulation). Why, it’s almost magical, in a way! The wonders of commercialization!

Getting to all the seriousness warranted for a Joan Baez album review, I will tell you that Joan Baez wrote “Song of Bangladesh,” and it’s surprisingly fantastic. Even when you compare it to songs released by other artists, it’s wonderful. The mood is forlorn, the melody is catchy and relatively complex and the lyrics are even nice. Add in the fact that her longtime producer had a new studio that included real session musicians and sound engineers… Well, I couldn’t possibly ask for anything more out of her. And I won’t, because her other originals don’t hope to measure up to that! But they are nice for the most part.

The album opens with an original, “Prison Trilogy.” It has a very pleasant, flowing melody even though she repeats the hook quite a lot. The session musicians did wonders for the development, and it’s a real joy to sit through. I read the lyrics (for some reason) and found them to be pretty trite, though. I wonder about fans who say they like Baez for her lyrics. Her “Love Song to a Stranger” is even better with instrumentation and a melody that’s very hypnotizing. I must insist that the lyrics are icky, this time seemingly taking cliched Hallmark wedding anniversary cards as its main inspiration.

And now for the lesser originals… there’s “Myths,” which retains her signature repetitive and free-flowing melody though the hook isn’t very good so the song isn’t especially compelling. “To Bobby” starts out the same way, but this seems to have a primitive chorus of sorts completely stripped of instrumentation and melody. It ruins the good flow of the tune. Lastly, “Weary Mothers” marks a bit of a return to the old folky days. The melody is interesting enough to be boring, though the instrumentation is actually pleasant and makes it easy to sit through. See how glad I am that she joined a real label?

And of course there’s the covers. She’s so damn inconsistent with them! It all ranges from the bad ones (“A Stranger in My Place”) to the good ones (“Rainbow Roads”) to the very obscure ones (“Tumble Weeds”) to ones that couldn’t be more famous (“Imagine”). Interestingly, her sister, Mimi Farina, wrote one of the album’s best tunes, “In the Quiet Morning.” It sounds like Neil Diamond in a good way.

Yup, it isn't perfect, but that's just 'cos it's Joan Baez. This is pretty good for her.

Read the track reviews:
Come From the Shadows


Where Are You Now, My Son? (1973)

Album Score: 6

Holy mother of poop. This is an album of severe contrasts!!! So distinct, these contrasts are, that it’s best to split this review both sides of this album independently.

Side 1 (11/15)
Joan Baez took a decidedly soft-pop tone to her work, and these seven tunes are probably the nicest concentration of material she ever released (this far). What’s more, all but one of them were written by either her or her sister, which means that this nearly contains all original material. The only true-blue cover is Hoyt Axton’s country ditty “Less Than the Song” … with a melody that’s not-too-great though the studio musicians handled it nicely.

There are a number of very fine originals here… “Only Heaven Knows” is the same sort of thing as “Sweet Sir Gallahad.” Just as pleasant sounding and the instrumentals are more varied and finely textured. I can’t say the melody is especially memorable, but it’s a nice breezy thing that’s generally a joy to listen to. She manages to even top that with “A Young Gypsy.” It resembles and old English folk tune with its minor chord sequence and gloomy atmosphere… something that Baez never wrote before, but she had plenty of experience singing them in her early folk albums! Geez, she even has another good one, “Rider Pass By.” It resembles an old-school church hymn except it’s actually good, and the melody is splendid! Baez’s dramatic vocals are just what it needed, too. She loses me with a classical music instrumental, “Wind Rose.” The arrangements are pretty, but you really have to know more than three or four chords to write classical music… Nice effort anyway.

Hearing Nina Farina’s music interests me greatly in her… “Best of Friends” is an utter gem for anyone who doesn’t hate soft pop. The harmonies are far more advanced than Baez had the ability to write, and it’s enticing from beginning to end. The melody is beautiful and so is the orchestration! Baez’s voice never sounded prettier than it did there… it’s a very special sort of song. Farina’s other contribution, “Mary Call” was the album’s only major arrangement blunder. Those choir noises sound positively awful; they’re very loud and carry no emotional impact. Otherwise, the song isn’t bad.

Side 2 (1/15)
According to the All Music Guide, this is what separates the Joan Baez fans from everyone else in the world. Well, there was never a doubt in my mind that I was never a Baez fan, and I definitely didn’t need this piece of excrement to confirm that! … This side brings the absolute worst attributes of Baptism and Carry it On and stretches it out for 21-minutes. The album’s namesake, this track consists mostly of a collage of poorly recorded soundbytes she collected during her vacation at Hanoi in Dec. 1972. You can hear various conversations, air raid sirens, bombs, impromptu concerts, etc. Other parts consisted of Baez pounding a piano and reciting a narrative about her experiences there. What’s remarkable about this is that none of it is interesting. It’s not only boring, but it’s garbage. I know she felt strongly about these political issues but there’s no need to be a complete pretentious bore about it. I can’t believe I wasted 21 minutes of my life, not to mention general wear-and-tare of my eardrums, listening to this rubbish. I will say one thing about it: it doesn’t make me nearly as angry as listening to those soundbytes from Carry it On. Yeah, they were that bad.

Read the track reviews:
Where Are You Now, My Son?


Gracias a la Vida (1974)

Album Score: 6

This album was apparently recorded and released by Baez as “a message of hope to the Chileans suffering under Augusto Pinochet,” but I wouldn’t be surprised that the only people in Chile who listened to it were American Peace Corps volunteers. Two reasons I didn’t want to review this before even listening to it: One, it’s an album full of Spanish language ditties; Two, I hate the album cover. But then I looked further in her discography, saw the cover for Gulf Winds and learned that I had bigger fish to fry.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with making an album full of Spanish-language covers. It’s important that I say this… In fact, I could very well imagine that such an album could be good! I know this was meant for Chileans, but I am an American music-listener who doesn’t always get to hear material from the other side of the equator! … From what I know of it, it can get passionate and their rhythms are legendary!!! … Hm--- Baez apparently didn’t think so. You won’t find anything good about Latin music here. It might have not been so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that Joan Baez is the dullest person on the planet. Yo soy mas sueno! (….Obviously, it’s been eight years since my last Spanish class.)

Why can’t Baez do anything that even resembles creativity? This alleged artist goes through the vast majority of these songs adhering strictly to instrumental cliches and giving dull vocal performances. If she’s just going to do that, then she’s not worth my time. It’s just hopeless.

The only song I’m going to mention in this section of the review is “Dido,” which is an original. Hilariously, the lyrics consist of repeating the song title over and over again. Hey, don’t fault her in that --- just because she can sing in Spanish doesn’t mean she can write poetry with it! (She always had trouble enough with the English ones.) That song is OK… surely one of the album’s best since it doesn’t adhere to those dastardly Latin cliches. I do wish the melody was better, though… Oh man, there are so many times that I hate my life when reviewing Joan Baez.

Read the track reviews:
Gracias a la Vida


Diamonds & Rust (1975)

Album Score: 11

It's a mystery to me why Diamonds & Rust is considered the masterpiece of her career. It's a good album, and among the best albums she'd ever done, but I find it to be slightly inferior to her classic '60s works or even Come From the Shadows released earlier in the decade. Its reputation is sealed by the popularity of the hit title track! If it's just the song we're talking about, then I would agree that it's classic and wonderful. But what about the rest of the songs? They're hit and miss.

Coincidentally, Bob Dylan also had a career-revitalizing release that year, Blood on the Tracks. The connection between the two is further solidified that the albums both have a track in common. Baez does an enjoyable cover of “Simple Twist of Fate,” which is probably the best song of the album. At any rate, in 1975, the public was ready to hear from these old folkies! I'm guessing whatever albums either of them were happening to release at the time were going to be thrust as masterpieces. You can't kill public sentimentality.

But Diamonds & Rust ain't no masterpiece. For a start, it contains some of the worst original compositions that Baez penned in awhile. It's like she channeled all her energy to writing the fantastic title track and ran out of juice for the rest. I suppose it's a good thing, then, that she provided only four originals, and one of them, “Dida,” she had already released on Gracias a la Videos. It's a re-recorded version of it, though. She gives it a distinct Las Vegas sound and brings in Joni Mitchell for back-up vocals. It's interesting to hear what Baez “going Vegas” might sound like, but honestly you're not missing much. She adheres strictly to the expected cliches. “Children and all that Jazz” is another song that gravitates toward pop cliches, but the addition of a wild jazz pianist helps me bear through the horrible chord progression and trite melody. The worst of the originals is surprisingly the closest thing to straight folk music, “Winds of the Old Days.” All I can say about it is it's deathly mediocre and I hate listening to it.

And now for the covers. There are a few gems here. The rendition of Stevie Wonder's “Never Dreamed You'd Leave for Summer” is surprisingly soaring and riveting. A Janis Ian cover, “Jesse” might be deadly serious and fit for a groan-inducing romantic film, but it's utterly gorgeous. In the closing track, she sings 19th Century classics “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Danny Boy” both of which come off exceedingly well. Lesser covers include a rocking rendition of a bland Jackson Browne tune, “Fountain of Sorrow.” She covers John Prine's “Hello in There,” which is a nice little tune but it fails to capture the imagination, so to speak. The worst cover is “Blue Sky,” which makes even the Jackson Browne song seem rich and melodic.

Read the track reviews:
Diamonds & Rust


All reviews are written by Michael Lawrence.