After staying away from American record stores for eight years, Joan Baez became surprisingly prolific in the late 1980s, as Speaking of Dreams marked her third release in three years for Gold Castle Records and, actually, her second of 1989, following the live LP Diamonds and Rust in the Bullring, which had been issued in January. (The year, as she just happened to mention in passing in one of the songs, marked her 30th anniversary as a performer.) From the dramatic album cover depicting the singer decked out as if on her way to a bullfight to the album-closing Spanish-language adaptation of "My Way" featuring the Gipsy Kings, it seemed that Baez wasn't over her infatuation with Spain. Or maybe a better way of putting it would be to say that her perspective remained international, as she also rhapsodized about a romance with an under-30 Cameroonian in Paris in the self-written title song; sympathized with the plight of the students in Tiananmen Square in the self-written "China"; longed to be in Ireland in Van Morrison and Patrick Moloney's "Carrickfergus"; considered the various cock-ups in South and Central America due to U.S. interference in Greg Copeland's "El Salvador," a duet with Jackson Browne; and tried out South African mbaqanga courtesy of Paul Simon and his band on a medley of the traditional folk song "Rambler Gambler" and the doo wop hit "Whispering Bells." Still, Speaking of Dreams managed to combine the three elements that had been constants in Joan Baez albums for some time. There were the traditional, or traditional-sounding, songs, "Rambler Gambler," "Carrickfergus," and David Massengill's lovely "Fairfax County" (which, despite being a contemporary composition sounded exactly like a highwayman ballad dating back a century or two). There were politically oriented songs, often by contemporary songwriters, such as "El Salvador" and George Michael's poverty-conscious "Hand to Mouth." And there were Baez originals, in this case two also on political themes, with "Warriors of the Sun," an anthemic laundry list of concerns from civil rights to environmentalism joining the earnest handwringing of the timely "China." There may not have been much in the way of keepers for the Baez concert repertoire or songs for the hit parade, but Speaking of Dreams was a sturdy, craftsmanlike effort that showed respect for Baez's traditional approach and also brought her sound up to date through the production and the carefully chosen cameos by similar stars.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann