When Joan Baez began recording and performing during the late '50s and early '60s, she carved out a niche for herself as a remarkable singer of traditional music. In 1966 she released Noël, an album of seasonal songs notable for its variety and the fact that she sung two selections in German. One would expect to see "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and "Deck the Halls," but Baez adds lesser-known gems like "Ave Maria" and "Coventry Carol," along with instrumental versions of "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella" and "Adeste Fideles." The arrangements, while not unusual for a holiday album, were something new for a Baez album. Lutes, violas, harpsichord, strings, and wind instruments provide a classical setting for Baez's lovely soprano. In this setting, her voice becomes more formal and mannered. The 2001 reissue of Noël also includes several bonus tracks, including a French version of "Away in a Manger." Baez's fans will probably be split on the quality of the album. Fans of her early traditional albums will find these arrangements and stylized vocals miles away from folk music; fans of Baez's pure soprano who never concerned themselves with genre purity will find Noël a must-have album for the holidays.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.