Joan Baez

Gulf Winds

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Joan Baez's landmark Diamonds & Rust found her at the peak of her singer/songwriter skills, seemingly capable of transitioning out of '60s protest mode into a more contemporary and commercially viable position. It was also around this time that she toured with Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, and according to Baez's memoirs, she wrote the songs for Gulf Winds during that tour. But Gulf Winds, her last A&M album, was a significant drop off and marked the beginning of what would be a steep commercial decline. Produced by David Kershenbaum, the album tries its best to bolster Baez with a timely '70s studio sound, but for the most part it misses the mark. The songs just aren't up to the task. "Sweeter for Me" sports a nice arppegiated piano by Baez and faintly harks to the melancholy brilliance of Diamonds & Rust, but, lyrically, most of the material is overwritten. The more stinging, faster-paced "O Brother!" is a more successful stab at a commercial sound, and Baez sings it with a bitter venom (you can't help but speculate that the song refers to Dylan himself). The standout track on an otherwise forgettable album, though, is surely the title track, "Gulf Winds," a ten-and-a-half-minute solo epic in the mold of her early work, just Joan and her acoustic guitar, brilliantly picked and sung, ironically demonstrating that, although Baez still had the talent, she couldn't capitalize on the success of Diamonds and Rust and the times were passing her by.

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