Although she released a comeback album, Recently, in 1987 after eight years away from U.S. record stores, Joan Baez continued to be more of a force in Europe than in her homeland, and she followed Recently with what was actually her third live album to be recorded in Europe in the 1980s. Diamonds & Rust in the Bullring is not to be confused with her 1975 studio album Diamonds & Rust, of course, and it is not a live recording of the songs from that album, either, even though the song "Diamonds & Rust" itself does lead it off. So, the title is not helpful. The album chronicles a show performed by Baez, in a bullring, naturally, in Bilbao, Spain, in 1988, and it demonstrates what makes her such a draw overseas. Half of the collection (side two of the LP and cassette, tracks seven through 12 of the CD) consists of songs sung in Spanish, recalling her 1974 all-Spanish album Gracias a la Vida and including that LP's title song, here performed as a duet with Mercedes Sosa, "El Preso Numero Nueve" (which was also on her debut album, Joan Baez, in 1960), "Llego con Tres Heridas," and "No Nos Moveran" (aka "We Shall Not Be Moved"). Also part of the Spanish side are a translation of Sting's "They Dance Alone (Gueca Solo)," called "Ellas Danzan Solas (Cueca Sola)." (Singing in Spanish always seems to remind Baez of the bloody Chilean military coup and its aftermath.) But the song that most moves the crowd is the pretty "Txoria Txori," a song in Basque with which they sing along. Actually, the Spanish side is more moving than the English one, in which Baez seems to be just running through some familiar material or turning in interpretations of such classics as Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry," Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat," and the Beatles' "Let It Be" that have been done definitively by their originators. Diamonds & Rust in the Bullring smacks of being a placeholder in Baez's discography, which makes it an odd release for an artist willing to wait so long to return to making records.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann