Despite her Latin heritage, Joan Baez probably wouldn't have been encouraged by her 1960s record label, the New York-based independent Vanguard, to sing an entire album in Spanish. At A&M Records, the Los Angeles firm co-founded by Herb Alpert that she joined in the early '70s, however, it would have been a different story, and it was A&M that released Gracias a la Vida ("Here's to Life") in 1974. Baez demonstrates an affinity for Mexican folk music on such obvious choices as "Cucurrucucu Paloma," but it's no surprise that, a year after the assassination of leading nueva canción folksinger Victor Jara in a military coup in Chile, an atrocity that shocked the American folk community, she has not backed away from her political commitments. There is "Guantanamera," a song that may have been a Top Ten U.S. hit for the Sandpipers in 1966, but that has political implications, as Pete Seeger has been reminding listeners for more than a decade. There is a Spanish version of "We Shall Not Be Moved" ("No Nos Moveran") with a lengthy spoken introduction. There are songs like "El Preso Numero Nueve" ("Prisoner Number Nine"; repeated from 1960's Joan Baez) and "Esquinazo del Guerrillero" ("The Guerillas Serenade"). And, inevitably, there is a song of Jara's, "Te Recuerdo Amanda" ("I Remember You Amanda"), which the slain singer wrote for his mother. But then there is also "Dida," a wordless duet with Joni Mitchell. Throughout, Baez demonstrates her mastery of Spanish singing over authentic arrangements while attempting to stir up her Spanish-speaking listeners just as she does their English-speaking compatriots.
Gracias a la Vida Review
by William Ruhlmann