Joan Baez was a seminal figure during the early ’60s folk revival movement in the United States. She burst upon the national scene as a result of her performance at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival. Her first three albums, Joan Baez, Joan Baez Vol. 2, and Joan Baez In Concert all received gold record awards for sales.
She would help introduce Bob Dylan to the world through the interpretation of many of his songs. She performed at Woodstock and is still active over a half century into her career.
Today she is also known for her relentless social activism. She has constantly crisscrossed the nation in support of civil rights, her anti-war beliefs, and environmental issues.
Her ’60s material revolved around traditional folk songs. As the ’70s progressed her sound became slicker and more polished. What did remain was one of the purest voices in music. Her angelic and clear soprano vocals remained a formidable instrument.
The mid to late ’70s would find her releasing a series of excellent and well received albums. The live From Every Stage, Gulf Winds, Blowin’ Away, and Honest Lullaby all had strong points as they fused pop and folk music. None of these releases would be as good as the 1975 album which preceded them.
Diamonds & Rust is not only the best album in her vast catalogue but remains one of the better folk-oriented releases of the decade. Its beauty and intimacy makes it an album I still play with a degree of regularity.
Joan Baez was mainly an interpreter of other artists’ compositions but here she stepped forward and wrote four of the tracks herself. Her title track is practically worth the price of the album alone. It revolves around a phone call from an old lover which takes her ten years back in time. Her poignant imagery is so clear I can virtually see her cold breath hanging in the air.
There are a number of other delights to be found here. Her take of Jackson Browne’s “Fountain Of Sorrow” is impeccable. She mimics Dylan perfectly on “Simple Twist Of Fate.” Her own compositions, “Children and All That Jazz” and “Winds Of Old Days,” continue to demonstrate just how good a songwriter she can be when she puts her mind to it. She reaches back in time for a wonderful medley of “ I Dream Of Jeannie/Danny Boy.” She even manages to pull off the Allman Brothers tune “Blue Sky.”
Diamonds & Rust is an album of depth and conviction. It was a rare release where she took a break from her political agenda and the results were some of the best of her career. To understand Joan Baez, any of her early albums will do. To appreciate Joan Baez, this is the place to start.
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