Joan Baez

In San Francisco

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Its lowly budget status notwithstanding, Joan Baez in San Francisco is, in fact, a crucial addition to any collection -- albeit one that even completists are unlikely to play more than once or twice. It comprises the album-length session that the then-unknown teenager recorded in June 1958, as she later recalled. "I was still in high school [when] two guys approached me and said 'hey little girl, would you like to make a record?' They were rogues, but I didn't know that. [So] off we went to San Francisco [where] I recorded everything I knew on a gigantic borrowed Gibson guitar." A dozen songs ranged from recent hit songs like "La Bamba," "Young Blood," and Harry Belafonte's "Island in the Sun" to folk club standards "Oh Freedom" and "I Gave My Love a Cherry," and it must be confessed, no matter how beautiful Baez's voice was, the material lets it down almost every time. True, her version of "Dark as a Dungeon" was fine, and she obviously retained enough affection for "Scarlet Ribbons" to include it on her Rare, Live & Classic box set. Otherwise, however, Joan Baez in San Francisco is little more than a curio from the very dawn of her career, a demo tape that failed in its stated purpose of landing her a record deal, and which should have been archived accordingly. But it resurfaced in 1964, once Baez's fame was assured and, while she did succeed in getting an injunction against it at the time, it has continued resurfacing ever since.