Joan Baez

Bowery Songs

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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

Bowery Songs is a collection of live tracks taken from Joan Baez's performance at the Bowery Ballroom in New York on November 6, 2004. While it is not an entire performance, there is more than enough to satisfy fans. Baez and her band take on material old -- "It's All Over Now Baby Blue," "Farewell Angelina," "Joe Hill," "Deportee," etc. -- and some fine performances from her last studio outing, Dark Chords on a Big Guitar -- including "Christmas in Washington" and "Rexroth's Daughter." But the big news for fans is that there are four unrecorded songs that have been part of Baez's standard stage repertoire and are often requested by fans. The album's bookend pieces are an a cappella read of "Finlandia" and a fine reading of Steve Earle's "Jerusalem." She also does an amazing version of Bob Dylan's "Seven Curses" here, as well as "Dink's Song." This is a deeply satisfying recording, and Baez is at her very best as an interpretive singer. The read of Earle's "Christmas in Washington" is a case in point. Baez brings a much deeper sense of history and social justice struggle to the tune than Earle does, and she brings it to bear in every line. One can hear her heartbreak as she cracks the song open, bringing the tattered banners of labor unions to the listeners' eyes, and as she invokes the ghosts of Emma Goldman, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Woody Guthrie, among others, to the fore, one can feel the sense of hurt, betrayal, and failed promise, but also the trace of rigorous perseverance that the original does not hold. The only song that isn't here but should be is Ryan Adams' "In My Time of Need," which was such a standout on Dark Chords on a Big Guitar. But this is a minor quibble, as Bowery Songs is Baez's edgiest and most darkly seductive live album to date.

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