Joan Baez

Diamonds

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The same year that A&M U.S. released the single-disc, 20-track Greatest Hits, A&M U.K. released this double-disc, 33-track compilation from the same period of Joan Baez's career, i.e., her five-year, five-album sojourn at the label from 1972 to 1976. You'd figure that this one would get the nod over the shorter American disc, right? Wrong. Compiler John Tobler, who also wrote the perfunctory liner notes, devotes the first disc to abbreviated versions of Baez's first A&M album, Come from the Shadows (nine of 12 tracks), and her third, Diamonds & Rust (eight of 11), and the second disc to an abbreviated version of her fourth, the live double-LP From Every Stage (16 of 20). He makes a point of not using anything from her second A&M album, Where Are You Now, My Son?, which he calls "misguided" for containing documentary sounds from the Vietnam War. Is it necessary to point out that anyone who fails to appreciate Baez's stand on Vietnam has no business choosing a compilation of her music? (And, of course, the war sounds are only on one side of the record. If Tobler had bothered to flip the LP over, he'd have found such excellent tracks as "Best of Friends" and "Less Than a Song," both of which are on Greatest Hits, as well as "Mary Call" and "Young Gypsy.") And he doesn't even mention her fifth A&M album, Gulf Winds, which means he misses such songs as "Sweeter for Me," which three U.S. compilations have correctly chosen as one of her best A&M songs. While there is nevertheless much that is valuable on Diamonds, the trouble is that, despite Tobler's opinion, the A&M period was less "a commercially and artistically profitable" one than a transitional and uneven one for Baez, so that selectivity is the key to a good compilation, and she is not best represented by her covers of songs better known in the versions recorded by their authors (John Lennon's "Imagine," John Prine's "Hello In There") or by the umpteenth performances of songs from her Vanguard period ("Love Is Just a Four Letter Word"). Rather, this was a period when Baez was emerging as a writer. But Tobler has excluded many of her originals in favor of retreads. So, don't waste your money: if you want a good sampler, get the Greatest Hits; if you want more, go ahead and buy the full-length albums that have been oddly truncated here.

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