Joan Baez

Vanguard Visionaries

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A true single-disc retrospective of Joan Baez's long tenure with Vanguard Records is a simple impossibility. Baez was with the label from 1960 to 1972 and cut -- not including greatest-hits offerings and compilations -- fourteen albums. Partially, this is due to her simple presentations early on, where she was simply accompanied by her own acoustic guitar playing. These ten tracks, which in one sense are as good as any ten cuts from the period, represent her entire oeuvre at the label. The earliest ballads such as "Silver Dagger," "Mary Hamilton" and a fine cover of Phil Ochs' "There But for Fortune" offer that gorgeous voice of hers completely unadorned save for her fingerpicking. Certainly some of her fine versions of country tunes, such as "Jackaroe," "Long Black Veil," and "Hickory Wind" come from very different records. The latter especially, cut for her then-husband, activist, author and legendary draft resister, the late David Harris, was cut for David's Album, a bona fide country & western record with pedal steel guitar and electric bass. This version rivals the Byrds' for its chilling sincerity and gorgeous delivery. No compilation of Baez's work would be complete without a few tracks from Bob Dylan, and here are "Farewell, Angelina," and her stunning version of "Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word." If only they'd found a way to include her self-penned "Blessed Are," from the double album of the same name, or her reading of Robbie Robertson's "Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Alas. In any case, there is a problem with this entire series: the consumer is not informed as to which albums these tracks are taken from originally; she will have to do that work for herself, which is particularly frustrating. Certainly this is incomplete as a representative sample of Baez, but that said, there isn't a dud in the bunch.

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