Artist: Joan Baez
Joan Baez, born on January 9th, 1941, is an American folk singer and a songwriter who is of mixed Mexican and Scottish descent. Baez rose to prominence in the early '60s with her stunning renditions of traditional balladry. In the late '60s and early '70s, Baez came into her songwriting own, penning many songs (most notably "Diamonds & Rust," a nostalgic piece about her ill-fated romance with Bob Dylan, and "Sweet Sir Galahad," a song about sister Mimi Fariña's ( of Richard & Mimi Fariña fame) second marriage, and continued to meld her songcraft with topical issues.
Read more about Joan Baez on Last.fm.
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Joan Baez - Diamonds and Rust NME, Jun 1975
THIS ALBUM REPRESENTS Joan Baez's volte-face; after the years of diatribe and tireless dissemination of political views by every available channel, her records included, she's now saying that she felt the need to make a merely musical album, with no political overheads.
The last album, you may recall, was itself refreshingly musical, but it was also entirely in Spanish, and thus hardly a straightforward release. Half of the previous album, Where Are You Now, My Son? was devoted to tape recordings made during an American bombing raid in Hanoi. For some time, musical considerations have been taking a back seat in the construction of her albums.
It's difficult to believe her inclination to make political mileage from her music will have been terminated that easily, but nevertheless Diamonds And Rust is for her and forgive the pun a radical departure.
The songs have been chosen on musical merit alone, an electric band has been summoned to lend active support; it's as if Joan finally stepped out front to challenge the contemporary female idols of rock music the Linda Ronstadts et al on their own terms.
The album shows other innovations. Apart from the more ambitious instrumentation (Joan herself adds occasional synthesiser parts), strings are featured on a few numbers, and the vocal part has been double-and triple-tracked quite frequently. In the past her vocals have been left in their pristine state. Songs like Richard Betts' 'Blue Sky' where the lyrical content is scant indeed which would not previously have been considered satisfactory material for her, are now included.
That just gives an idea of the diverse sources from which material has been drawn. For alongside the more predictable choices of Bob Dylan and John Prine songs, there's space for not only the Allman Brothers, but Stevie Wonder as well. This could almost be a list of tracks for a Judy Collins album.
Three songs in particular are given superb renditions. Janis Ian's very beautiful 'Jesse', with a lovely piano part from David Paich; John Prine's 'Hello In There' (which could have sat comfortably on previous Baez albums; not only is it handled in a straightforward, largely acoustic manner, but, in so far as it concerns the loneliness of old people, it has a social/political bias); and Stevie Wonder's 'Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer', which is one of those happy unions from which both singer and song emerge with an enhanced reputation. A & M are well aware that this album needs only a strong single for it to emulate the success of Judy Collins' Judith, and this could be the one.
There are four of her own songs.
The title-track is her most compelling composition to date. It has a lovely melody and Joan's lyrics, which can sometimes shake hands with the banal and turgid, here strive for and occasionally achieve, a truly poetic grace.
The song is about Dylan "Well I'll be damned/Here comes you ghost again", and indeed his presence looms large throughout. 'Winds Of The Old Days' is about her own response to his U.S. tour at the beginning of last year. There are some haunting phrases here, too, and the stance is more sympathetic than admonitory, which makes a welcome contrast from her embarrassing 'Come Back Bobby' of a few years back.
We learn that during the sessions Blood On The Tracks was released, and that "Joan loved it from the first listening." So she's recorded her own version of 'Simple Twist Of Fate' (the first cover version of that album). There are screaming electric guitars from Larry Carlton and Dean Parks, turbulent piano from Larry Knechtel and rolling percussion from Jim Gordon. This is indeed the first Baez track for which it seems pertinent to offer the advice PLAY IT LOUD. There's good use made of double-tracking and the thing is, on the whole, really rocking.
The argument against it, of course, is that she has turned one of Dylan's most emotionally grippping songs of late into just another rock song, and it's a view with which I can sympathise. Especially as it's given added weight by the inclusion of Joan's party-piece a fond but pointless imitation of Dylan's husky vocals; tthere's no doubt this gambit trivialises the song still further. It's even more redundant because Joan has also used the device (which she's used in performance for many years, and fair enough) on 'Passing Through' from The Earl Scruggs Revue's Anniversary Special Volume One. (Courtesy NME's useless info dept.).
She's accustomed to paring Dylan's songs, relieving them of electronic clutter, so the situation has a certain irony. Personally, I'm incined to feel that the song is not undone by the excitement of the treatment.
Her two other compositions are 'Children And All That Jazz' and 'Dida'. The former belongs to that nauseating genre of superior Women's Institute songs which found its most sublime expression in Joni Mitchell's Ladies Of The Canyon. It's mostly a list of names and anecdotes about kids that mothers exchange with each other; the last verse, though, is good, with triple voices; the song has a resonant melody and must be incredibly difficult to sing.
'Dida' actually features background vocals by Ms. Mitchell. It's only an alternative take of a song they recorded together for Gracias A La Vida. It's now taken much faster indeed each time the mood of this song perfectly complemented that of the rest of the album and horn arrangements by Tom Scott have been over-dubbed.
What else? There's Jackson Browne's 'Fountain Of Sorrow'; while I don't really feel Joan adds anything to the song, equally you must commend her good taste in choosing it. It's the second track in, so it helps to establish the impression that she not only looks younger and more attractive than ever, but she sounds younger too.
The album closes in mellow fashion, with Joan singing her grandmother's favourite song, 'I Dream Of Jeannie' and 'Danny Boy' to a simple piano accompaniment from Larry Knechtel. It makes for a very moving ending.
The production, by Joan herself and David Kershenbaum, is never very good, and is sometimes sloppy, sometimes downright bad. This is where she really loses ground to the Ronstadts and the Muldaurs.
On 'Children And All That Jazz' there's a point where the song seems to get lost, and starts puffing as though halfway through a marathon; on 'Simple Twist Of Fate' there are moments of anarchy, where no instrument dominates in the mix, and the chance of a truly powerful rendition is lost.
There are wobbly moments in most songs; I played Diamonds And Rust after Fairport Convention's Rising For The Moon (production by Glyn Johns) and the difference is really telling.
Still, those are the defective points of a remarkable album. If Joan Baez is to be a real competitor in the '70's musical stakes, and not just an abdicated queen, an eccentric on the sidelines, this album has to be a success; at the moment it's selling well enough in America to indicate that it will be.
Because while not entirely successful, equally it is nothing less than a renaissance.
When I saw her in concert the last time she was in England, I had this vision of her, continuing to come over for an annual concert, accompanying herself, until she reached old age, always to be welcomed back by a capacity audience, the same capacity audience that had greeted her the year before, and the year before that.
This album will change that; as dramatically as Hermione, the queen has returned to the stage.
Accattivante versione di un ormai classico pezzo folk che Joan, da sempre, inserisce nelle esibizioni dal vivo.
Joan Baez playing "The Long Black Veil" (Johnny Cash) at the Zénith in Toulouse on April 5, 2011. With Dirk Powell. Filmed with iPhone.