Whistle Down The Wind By Joan Baez

January 24, 2019

Joan Baez is a bona-fide member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. While the title may not fit her musical style, the honor is appropriate. She was an essential part of the folk revival movement and like or hate her politics; she has influenced the society and culture of the United States through her voice and music for the last half century plus. She has now returned with her 25th studio album.

Whistle Down The Wind is a nostalgic, poignant, and yearning release. The edge to her music is a little more subtle than in the past. Her acoustic guitar playing seems to have acquired a nice patina with the passage of time.

I have always thought she does not compose original material enough. Here she presents 10 songs by other artists and she has chosen well as she brings her experiences to each and transforms them into her own creations.

The title song by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan finds her looking back at life. “Be Of Good Heart” is a sweet remembrance of a past relationship. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “The Things We Are Made Of” is a thoughtful and laid back tune of independence.

“I Wish The Wars Were All Over” returns her to one of the themes that have dominated her music and life. “The President Sang Amazing Grace” is a response to the shootings in South Carolina.

As with any Joan Baez album, there is always a focus on her voice which continues to have a purity virtually unmatched.

Whistle Down The Wind may not have the power of her earlier releases but it is an album of music that fits where she is in life, and her that is enough.

We Shall Overcome 45 by Joan Baez

June 15, 2012

Joan Baez was one of the seminal figures in the 1960s folk revival movement and for a half century has remained true to her craft. She has remained a social conscience for three generations and counting.

“We Shall Overcome” was originally an African workers protest song from the early 1900s. It has become a standard and traditonal folk song in the United States.

It was also Joan Baez’s first chart single. It appeared on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart on November 9, 1963 at number 90. It then fell off the chart never to return, making it a one week wonder. It didn’t matter as a lot of great Joan Baez music would follow.

Love Is A Four Letter Word 45 by Joan Baez

May 29, 2012

Joan Baez was a key figure in the American folk revival movement of the 1960s. She has also been in the forefront of social causes for the last half-century. While her popularity peak was during the 1960s through the mid-1970s, she continues to record and perform live down to the present day.

“Love Is A Four Letter World” is a Bob Dylan composition that I don’t think has ever been recorded by him.

It is a song that has always been associated with Baez, who first issued it as a single during early 1969. It spent four weeks on the BILBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart and peaked at number 86.

The song has since become an iconic Joan Baez tune. It has appeared on a number of her albums and is still a part of her stage act.

My Favorite Albums From 1961

January 7, 2012

This is the third year in a row that I have looked at my favorite albums from 50 years ago. Since I was not buying albums at the time, my appreciation of the music is after the fact. I have also found that my musical tastes of pre-Beatles era material tends to be more eclectic now than it ever used to be. So, here are my top 10 albums from 1961.

10) New Juke Box Hits by Chuck Berry.

Average Chuck Berry was still better than most of what was being released during the early 1960s. There are none of his definitive hits here but what was included was a solid example of Berry type of rock ‘n’ roll. The best known song was “I’m Talking About You,” which was covered by a host of bands including The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, The Yardbirds, the early Beatles, and The Animals. Add in such straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll such as “Runaround,” “Rip It Up,” “Stop and Listen,” “Little Star,” “Diploma For Two,” and “Sweet Sixteen” and you have a very solid, if not classic album.

9) Lonely And Blue by Roy Orbison.

Roy Orbison will always be remembered for his series of single releases for the Monument label during the first half of the 1960s. His perfect tenor voice that could soar almost beyond belief was the perfect vehicle for the catchy rock and pop he produced during his classic period. Any of his Greatest Hits albums from the era are music bliss. Lonely And Blue was his first album for the Monument label and while there are a number of what can be called filler songs, he still manages to make them interesting and listenable. The highlights were his big hit “Only The Lonely)” and his interpretations of two Don Gibson tunes, “I’d Be A Legend In My Time” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Any Roy Orbison album on the Monument album would make most top 10 lists for any given year.

8) Volume 2 by Joan Baez.

Joan Baez was a pivotal figure in the folk revival movement of the 1960s. Her perfect pitch voice, her commitment to social causes, and her choice of material made her an important figure during the decade. Her debut album made my top 10 list last year and her sophomore effort was more of the same. It was mainly traditional material such as “Lily Of The West,” “Old Blue,” “Banks Of The Ohio,” and “Lonesome Road,” which not only entertained but told timeless stories.

7) Now Here’sJohnny Cash by Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash had left the Sun label and signed with Columbia but left behind a number of tracks in the Sun vault. By the early 1960s he was on his way to becoming a country superstar. Sun kept releasing his early material to capitalize on his growing popularity. Now Here’sJohnny Cash was his only 1961 release. These older tracks caught Cash on the cusp of transitioning from a rockabilly artist to one who would help establish what would become traditional country music of the era. It was a more simple sound with only minimal backing but the album is a nice ride through his early career and helps to understand the foundation and early evolution of his music.

6) The Genius Sings The Blues by Ray Charles.

Ray Charles was about to sign with the ABC-Paramount label for whom he would sell tens of millions of albums and in his own way would change the fabric of American music. It turned out that he had one last good album in him for the Atlantic label. He fused a strong blues element with his brand of soul that emerged as one of the more creative and influential albums of the year. What he did with such songs as “(Night Time Is) The Right Time,” “The Midnight Hour,” “I Believe To My Soul,” and “Nobody Cares” hinted at his infusion of country elements to his music in the years ahead.

5) A Man Of Constant Sorrow by Judy Collins.

Today it is easy to forget what an important part of the early folk movement Judy Collins was during the 1960s. 1961 saw the release of her debut album that contained mostly traditional folk songs from around he world, plus a reworking of Bob Dylan’s “A Man Of Constant Sorrow.” The album is somewhat dated today but remains a nice glimpse into a very different world of 50 years ago.

4) Roy Orbison At The Rock House by Roy Orbison.

This is a repeat of the Johnny Cash release. The Sun label released this album to capitalize on Orbison’s growing popularity with the Monument label. This was the pre-pop Orbison who was a rocking rockabilly singer. “Devil Doll,” “Ooby Dooby,” “Rock House,” “Mean Little Mama,” and “Sweet And Easy To Love” showed a very different artist than he would become later. It remains a unique album in his catalogue of releases, one of the better releases of 1961, and is still worth seeking out for a listen or two.

3) Blue Hawaii by Elvis Presley.

Elvis issued a number of forgettable soundtrack albums during his career but this one was a winner. Blue Hawaii spent 20 weeks in the number one position on the Billboard Magazine Pop Album Chart and was one of the 10 most commercially successful albums of the decade. It deserved every accolade it received, as the music was equal to many of his studio albums of the time. “Can’t Help Falling In Love” and “Rock-A-Hula-Baby” are almost worth the price of admission alone. An essential Elvis Presley release, which is very high praise indeed.

2) Patsy Cline Showcase byPatsy Cline.

This was Patsy Cline’s second studio album and it would make her a star. Her hits “I Fall To Pieces,” “Crazy,” and “Walkin’ After Midnight” are all memorable and definitive country songs. Her covers of “The Wayward Wind,” “San Antonio Rose,” and “True Love” all showed an artist of depth and talent. While country music has never dominated my turntable time, this was an album that has received extensive play during the last several decades.

1) Rick Is 21 by Ricky Nelson.

Ricky Nelson released dozens of albums during his career, but no studio album as good as this one. It was the perfect cross between the rock of his early career and the increasingly pop sound that he would develop during the 1960s. Big hits such as “Travelin’ Man” and “Hello Mary Lou” would serve as counterpoints to the rocking “Break My Chain” and the ballad “Stars Fell On Alabama.” It was the first Ricky Nelson album I purchased and it remains my favorite release of 1961.

The Debut Album Plus by Joan Baez

August 1, 2011

Whatever your opinions on Joan Baez’s political views and social activism, there is little doubt that she has been one of the important figures in American folk music for the last 50 years and the possessor of one of music’s all-time purest voices.

Her coming out party was the 1959 and 1960 Newport Folk Festivals, the first as Bob Gibson’s unscheduled guest and the second as a solo performer. Just after her second appearance, she traveled to New York City to record her first solo album. She spent four days making the album in the ballroom of the Manhattan Towers Hotel, where many Vanguard label artists recorded due to the room’s live-feel acoustics. Released in October of 1960, it enjoyed little commercial success until two years later — once Baez had become a star — when it began a 140-week run on the Billboard Magazine Pop Album Chart.

Her self-titled debut was a typical folk album of the day. It consisted of 13 traditional folk songs, including “Silver Dagger,” “House Of The Rising Sun,” “Donna Donna,” “Wildwood Flower,” “Rake and Rambling Boy,” and “All My Trials.” The focus lay squarely on her voice as Baez provided the only instrumental accompaniment with acoustic guitar, save for some added acoustic playing by Fred Hellerman of The Weavers on several tracks.

It’s nice to have this historic album back in circulation. It has been reissued a number of times, in fact, and they all suffer from a little distortion on the high notes; this release is no exception. Since this is an ongoing problem, the issue is probably located in the source tape, which may well be the one used to create the original vinyl LP.

Ten bonus tracks included on this newest edition are essential for any Joan Baez fan — or collector of American folk music, for that matter — as they include performances that predate the release of her official debut. In 1959, Boston booking agent and concert promoter Manny Greenhill issued Folksingers ‘Round Harvard Square in a limited quantity on the small Veritas label. The album showcased the growing folk scene in the Boston area. It featured six solo performances by Baez, four each by local folksingers Bill Wood and Ted Alevizos, plus four duets between Baez and the men. All 10 of the Baez tracks are included here.

As far as I know, this particular collection of recordings has never been officially issued on CD. It was briefly reissued ’60s on vinyl in the ’60s, but through legal action Baez forced the set to be withdrawn and has never since consented to its release. Music falls into the public domain 50 years after its original recording, however, which has resulted in these performances once again seeing the light of day.

The sound of these 10 tracks is fine considering they were recorded in a tenement basement over a half century ago. The type of material is similar to her official debut but, interestingly, there are no duplicates. “Banks Of The Ohio,” “O What A Beautiful City,” “Sail Away Ladies,” “Black Is The Colour,” “Lowlands,” and “Virgin Mary (What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby)” were likely all part of her live act at this early stage of her career.

Bill Wood was a local folk singer and a Harvard undergraduate, while Ted Alevizos was a member of the Harvard faculty. Both have long since disappeared from the music scene, but they could sing, and here they leave their mark in these studio performances with the then-18-year-old Baez.

The Debut Album Plus is an essential early ’60s release. The music may underscore a simpler time but it remains historically significant, particularly in light of the turbulent era in which the U.S. would soon be immersed.

Article first published as Music Review: Joan Baez – Joan Baez: The Debut Album Plus on Blogcritics.

It’s All Over Now Baby Blue 45 by Joan Baez

October 15, 2010

Joan Baez was an important part of the early sixties folk revival in The United States. She was also an early confidant of Bob Dylan.

She would record many of his songs dwon through the years, sometimes even devoting an entire album to his work. It was always interesting to have her clear and precise vocals interpret his work as it put the focus squarely on the lyrics. During the early part of his career he gained popularity from her interpretations.

“It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” was originally released on Dylan’s BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME album. Her cover is traditional but her vocal work during this part of her career was mezmerizing. It unfortunately did not receive any chart action but did come in a rare picture sleeve.

There But For Fortune 45 by Joan Baez

September 20, 2010

Joan Baez was a seminal figure in the early sixties folk movement in The United States. She first gained attention through her appearance at the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959.

She has one of the purist voices in music. Her clear soprano appears effortless and the tone is crystal clear. Her interpretations of Bob Dylan compositions help to gain him gain some early fame.

On September 11, 1965 she released her version of the Phil Ochs tune “There But For Fortune.” While it only reached number fifty on THE BILLBOARD MAGAZINE singles charts it was a unique and poignant interpretation.

During the seventies she would move on to a pop sound but would leave behind a wonderful folk legacy including this old Phil Ochs tune.

Diamonds and Rust by Joan Baez

July 23, 2010

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.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down 45 by Joan Baez

June 28, 2010

A Classic song by The Band which became a huge single hit for Joan Baez.

“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is a history lesson in about three minutes. This tale of the Civil War and its aftermath fit the folk style of Joan Baez well. The Band produced a wonderful rock version, complete with harmonies, that became a concert staple for years.

Joan Baez simplified the song and placed the emphasis on her clear soprano voice. It was the highest charting single of her long career as it reached the number three position on The American charts during 1971.

This is one of those songs that never grows old as it tells a wonderful and poignant story. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by Joan Baez is seventies folk music at its best.

One Day At A Time by Joan Baez

August 18, 2009

When Joan Baez stepped out onto the stage at Woodstock before 400,000 people on August 15th, 1969, she was a star. She was at the height of her popularity and influence, and as a result, was given the festival’s first day headlining spot.

Possessing one of the best soprano voices in existence, Baez had been an important figure in the reemergence of American folk music during the early ‘60s. Her performances at the Newport Folk Festival had enabled her to rise above her contemporaries. She also formed a relationship with Bob Dylan during this period, which only served to increase her fame.

In addition, Baez was a tireless worker for social causes and an unyielding opponent of the Vietnam War, earning her the respect of the Woodstock generation. She is a rare ‘60s artist who has continued as a tireless advocate of peace and justice up to the present day.

Less than a month after her Woodstock performance, Baez returned to Nashville where in the fall of 1968, in an intensive two-week recording session, she produced two of the best albums of her career; even now, David’s Album and the two-disc set of Bob Dylan tunes, Any Day Now, remain important and respected releases in her vast catalogue.

(I Live) One Day At A Time is a versatile release and brought to a close the first decade of her recording career. It included her first two original compositions, two songs she performed at Woodstock, the usual country and folk covers, plus a Rolling Stones track.

The cream of country session musicians again provided support under the leadership of Grady Martin. Such artists as Pete Drake, Jerry Reed, Hargus Robbins, Ken Buttrey, and many others give the album a solid country foundation.

“Sweet Sir Galahad,” which she wrote for her sister, Mimi Farina, was in her set at Woodstock. This gentle ballad is still a part of her concert act. “A Song For David” was written for her husband who was serving three years in prison for evading the draft. It is also one of the most intimate performances of her career, since at twenty-eight she was pregnant and carrying on alone. Meanwhile, her classic live Woodstock performance of “Joe Hill” is returned now in its studio form.

The one thing Baez always has in her favor is the angelic purity of her voice, which allowed her to cover such diverse songs as “No Expectations” by Jagger and Richards, “Carry It On” by Pete Seeger, “I Live One Day At A Time” by Willie Nelson, and the traditional “Seven Bridges Road.”

(I Live) One Day At A Time remains a very representative album from Joan Baez. It was listenable yet remained true to her folk roots and political agenda.

Most of the acts at Woodstock quickly moved on with their careers. Joan Baez, however, remained a shining voice for the Woodstock philosophy that all too quickly disappeared. Forty years after Woodstock, she is still on the road preaching the gospel and keeping the faith.