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The Joan Baez Original Master Series:
Joan Baez, Joan Baez Vol. 2, Noel

Vanguard Records, 2001

Joan Baez is a legend in her own right as a folk musician and for her relationship with Bob Dylan. Described by music writer Robert Shelton as "the reigning queen of folk music" who "named Dylan the crown prince," her championing of Dylan’s musical genius at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival propelled him into the limelight.

But before there was Dylan, before there was fame, before there was protest music, there was a girl and a guitar and a song. In Joan Baez, Joan Baez Vol. 2, and Noel, the first three re-releases from Vanguard Records’ The Joan Baez Original Record Series, Baez is once again the "virgin princess," with a sound that is raw, folksy, unproduced, and intimate.

These re-issues bring it back to the basics, the pure pleasure of music at its most elemental. Stripped of all but the most necessary acoustic accompaniments, the first two albums come across as a distillation of Baez’s coffeeshop performance years: intimate little gatherings, minimal acoustic accompaniment, and the simple desire to make music.

Close your eyes and listen to these albums and you’re transported to a small room—crowded, smoke-filled, and vibrant with youthful energy. A dark-haired, dark-eyed, lithesome girl approaches the mike and suddenly there’s music. Just as suddenly, the room has quieted, all ears tuned to the soaring, plaintive purity of her voice, the lyric simplicity of the songs, the wistfulness of the moment.

Recorded over four days and nights in 1960 and released several months later, Joan Baez became a fundamental cornerstone for three generations of folk and rock musicians in America and England. On this reissue, Vanguard has included two previously unreleased tracks: "Girl of Constant Sorrow" (Baez’s customized version of the Stanley Brothers standard), "Woman Blues," as well as the full-length master track of "John Riley." Although this first album did not experience the initial commercial success that Vol. 2 would, it was an affirmation of Joan Baez’s love of song. "I felt that I had entered an arena at Vanguard where music in its purest form could have a chance, and that Maynard [Solomon, Vanguard producer] wasn’t going to try to crap it up to make singles and do all that stuff I didn’t want to do."

One year later, Joan Baez Vol. 2 confirmed that the girl-singer was on the road to becoming the queen of folk. Featuring the bluegrass champs the Greenbriar Boys, the album shot onto the charts, where it stayed for almost three years. Along with such favorites as "Lonesome Road," "Banks of the Ohio," and "Barbara Allen," Vol. 2 includes three previously unreleased tracks: "Once I Loved a Boy," "Poor Boy," and "Longest Train I Ever Saw." Noel (1966), the third album to be reissued, was released out of sequence in time for the holidays and contains six previously unrelased tracks: "We Three Kings," "The First Noel," "Virgin Mary," "Good Christian Kings," "Burgundian Carol," and a French version of "Away in a Manger." Comprised of a number of classical arrangements, it’s a sweet escape from the typical raucous holiday fare.

For those fans of folk and Baez—even those who haven’t yet acquired the taste, this is definitely an influential trio of albums worth taking note of and acquiring. Committed to chronologically reissuing all fourteen Baez albums from the Vanguard catalog complete with original artwork and liner notes, Vanguard plans to continue releasing three titles per quarter. Particularly for those who love the emotional narratives, ballades, and chanteys of old folk music—and the poetic consciousness-raising anthems of the "new" folk of the 1960s, this promises to be a collection more than worthy of collecting.
—Nisha N. Mohammed