Revisiting, and as magical as remembered
A recent interview with Joan Baez at 78, on her ‘farewell tour’ sent me back to visit her first, heavily traditional, folk ballad albums. Hearing that pure, clear effortless voice again has been a wonderful mix of melancholy and delight. Melancholy (ah, all our youth, or whenever this was first heard) but, also the choice of songs. Most of them are ancient ancient and (I assume) carry the weight of some of the centuries they have been sung in. Many of them are about death, many about love : and still more for death and love entwined.
I have to say that listening to many of the stellar female chanteuses of today I find a curling disdainful lip curls around my ears (strange mixed image!) So many voices seem to over, sobbingly EMOTE. ‘Look how much I am FEELING – or are full of various fashionable wails and vocal tricks. I wish many of them would sit down and listen to just how much more feeling an interpretation can be which floats out the music, and lets it do the speaking. Joan sings simply and clearly, her vibrato seems to happen without force or strain.
I confess to listening to these old lays, full of women done wrong to, loved and left, (Mary Hamilton, a Child Ballade) or women who decided not to engage because they were bound to be loved-and-left (Silver Dagger), tales of death on the high seas, death in battle and they did strange things to me. Somehow her renditions seem to carry the memory of how others may have sung them over earlier generations.
Pretty silver guitar playing as well. Magic. Thank you Joan Baez.
Baez of course has also been an activist all her life. I find interesting that she was largely brought up a Quaker (both her mother and her father had been the children of ministers from other Christian traditions) That spirit of both social activism, egalitarianism and the absence of the need for a mediator between ‘the Word’ and the congregation are somehow linked with the music she engaged with. And so too is the reflective listening for the truth of the music and the words to express, so that the singer does not need to overdo her feeling for it. Here is another performer who allows the listener room.
Although knows as a fine interpreter of other people’s songs, as well as an interpreter of traditional music, she has also penned some fine songs herself Though not on this album which is all ‘traditional’ – composer and lyric writer unknown.
Joan Baez Vol 1 UK
Joan Baez Vol 1 USA
Sadly, this album does not seem available on the American site to buy as an MP3, and several of the reviews mention that the quality of the reissue pressing is not that well done
Oh, I’m with you when it comes to modern female singers. So fake! So manufactured! And that ridiculous forced warbling they do! Yuk! I love Baez and in fact Diamonds and Rust was the soundtrack to my only visit to America mid 1970s when I was an angsty teen obsessed with Bob Dylan! I really must dig her recordings out! 😀
Lady Fancifull said:
I do prefer these very early CDs of hers where the music is very simple, and the stories very clear, but, what a song Diamonds and Rust is!
Have you read any of Joan Didion’s non-fiction, more specifically her collection of essays Slouching Towards Bethlehem? I’m pretty sure it contains a piece about Joan Baez and her ability to connect with listeners.
Lady Fancifull said:
Ooh, Jacqui, thank you for that. Investigation needed!
I kinda missed out on Joan Baez in my youth for some reason, but I’ve become increasingly fond of this kind of straight folk-singing over the years. I enjoyed the videos very much and shall now toddle off to youtube to belatedly get to know her better…
Lady Fancifull said:
Maybe you connected with what another commenter, South of Watford, says below. Check out, though not a traditional folk song, one of her own penning, from a 1975 album, Diamonds and Rust – the title track, about her relationship with Dylan is just,,,,,oh my gosh.
Oh, thank you – that is special indeed!
South of Watford said:
I think I’ve always had a bit of a problem with Joan Baez. To me she never seemed hip, or trendy, she was always a bit staid and conventional in her musical style – a bit like Peter Paul & Mary. This is back in the day when Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, and the Taylor clan (not just James, but also Kate and Livingston) led the US folk scene, and the UK was breaking new ground for folk with Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Roy Harper, Al Stewart, etc. OK, so she was at Woodstock, but despite her radical politics she always seemed a conservative force in music to me. I appreciate this does her a gross disservice, but I saw her on her last UK tour a couple of years ago and I although she is very respected I couldn’t get excited about what I heard. Brownie points for endurance, but – meh.
I agree with your claim that there are any number of (well known) contemporary women singers who don’t compare well with Joan Baez, but there are others I’d prefer to see – Shelby Lynne or Gretchen Peters for example. Mind you, I wish I looked as well as does after all these years. Maybe I need to get into that back catalogue to discover what I may have been missing all these years.
Lady Fancifull said:
She certainly was no wild child of excess (and I shall, with interest explore those modern female voices you mention) but I loved (and love) the simple pared back purity of the ancient ballads she sung.. (And I loved Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Roy Harper too. Oh, and of course, Dylan. but I never connected Joan with Peter Paul and Mary AT ALL. Inevitably, at 78 the extraordinary quality of that voice has changed, and I am not so enamoured of the Whistle Down The Wind CD, – except the track which references the first track on her first album – Silver Blade for Silver Dagger. It has that ancient lays feel, which was what I responded to strongly in her music. I think she tells a story through those songs, so well!
Thank you for prompting me to this revisiting LF. I didn’t have this particular album when I was younger, but I do know a number of the songs on it from other albums. I did and do love Baez’ wonderfully clear and melodic singing of the ballads and laments. Her voice is a musical instrument in the fullest sense. I sing in a community choir, and though of limited talent myself, excellent direction over the years from our musical director has given me a deep love for a good singing voice: Baez is among the best in her genre.