It’s such fun to read scathing reviews about classic albums. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of those for you today.
Heller-Nicholas (p. 48) says that this album ‘helped revatilsed folk music for a new generation’ and I can’t say I disagree. This album launched Baez’s career as a folk artist, then turned protestor and champion of social issues through her music. This album, however, doesn’t touch on any of that.
If you’re looking for a beautiful escape from it all, this is it.
Her voice. Her voice. Her voice is crystalline, clear, and strong. It doesn’t warble. The vibrato is taut without being nervous, the tone is perfectly balanced on a knife edge. The guitar is understated and comforting, and is only there to support her vocal line. If this album doesn’t make you want to lie down in the dappled shade of trees on the side of a meadow, I don’t know what will. It’s very pleasant to listen to, and I can see why it’s still one of the biggest selling solo female folk albums of all time.
Heller-Nicholas says that she later became known as the ‘Queen’ of Folk Music, to Bob Dylan’s title of King. As this is an album and not a career review, I can see none of that in here. It’s a perfectly lovely collection of songs, and actually a wonderful slow-day album. I actually desperately wanted to love this more than I like Dylan’s first album, but they’re just too wildly different to compare. Dylan invites you to lean in, and shake your head along to the beat. Baez cradles you as you lean back and breathe deeply.
My favourite track of the album has got to be, predictably, The House of the Rising Sun. Here we get a little more of that promise of anger we see in her later albums, and dare I say it – this might be my new favourite version of the song. I KNOW, big words.
Overall? It’s not groundbreaking.
This album isn’t as exciting as she is personally. She participated publicly in multiple Civil Rights demonstrations, committed acts of civil disobedience and encouraged draft resistance at her concerts to protest the Vietnam War. As cool as it is that she was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame this year, it’s more exciting that she helped set up the US arm of Amnesty International and founded her own human rights group.
I’d agree that this is definitely an album to listen to before you die, and for goodness sake take it to heart. Escape from the politics for 46 minutes, and rise restored, ready to carry on the fight. Politics doesn’t work unless we do, like Baez has been doing for decades.
- A good album if… you need to take a breather from the rest of life, to recharge from the crushing weight of being. Overachievers especially. Put this on, sit quietly, and try to let yourself get lost.
Dimrey, R. 2005. 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. 2013 Edition. Quintessence Editions Ltd. London.
Baez, J. 1960. Joan Baez. Solomon, M. Vanguard.