This Vanguard release is a heartwarmingly intimate look at Joan Baez during her most influential period (1960-1963). The album's 22 tracks are all live, performed before audiences held in silent and rapt attention in packed concert halls. The singer's trademark politically tinged folk songs are charmingly blended with a few pop interpretations like the Jerry Ragovoy early soul classic "She's a Trouble Maker" and a fun version of the Diamonds' "Little Darlin'," revealing a rarely seen lighthearted side of the activist. Baez's voice never sounded better than during this era, and her live performances resonate with a confident honesty. The only detractions of this CD are in the production: the whole album is mixed very quietly (requiring the listener to crank up the volume) but the applause between songs seems brashly loud. The other nitpick is that, for some reason, the album's engineer fades Baez's voice from left to right within the songs; this isn't a tremendous problem but listening on headphones to the sound bobbing back and forth can create a feeling of seasickness. However, these minor flaws should not discourage anyone from picking up Very Early Joan, a shining example of the bridge from the traditional Weavers/Kingston Trio folk singing of the fifties and the youthful fire of the political folk of the '60s.
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AllMusic Review by Zac Johnson