Joan Baez - acoustic guitar, vocals
One of the most accomplished interpretive singers ever, Joan Baez has relentlessly put her voice in the service of activism, particularly in the areas of nonviolence and civil and human rights. Possessing a soprano with a three-octave vocal range and a distinctive throat vibrato, Baez's highly distinctive voice put her front and center as the queen of folk music in the 1960s. On this solo acoustic performance, recorded at Gannon College, Baez's brilliance as an interpretive singer and engaging stage presence is revealed with an inspired choice of songs. On this remarkable performance, Baez not only delivers compelling songs by some of the greatest contemporary songwriters, such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and John Prine, but also delivers quite a few originals, proving that she was becoming a gifted songwriter herself.
The recording begins in progress, with a lovely reading of Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night." Immediately following, Baez reveals her charm and self-deprecating sense of humor on "Earth Angel" and "Honey Love," a pair of 1950s doo-wop style songs unlike anything in her usual topical cannon of material. These are both delightfully lighthearted and delivered with both humor and charm. The classic "IShall Be Released" follows in a far more serious manner, sounding more definitive than Dylan's own reading.
Baez had recently released her Come From the Shadows album where she began offering some of her original songs to the public. It is first represented by one of her finest original compositions, "Prison Trilogy (Billy Rose)." This song clearly reflects the difficult era of her life when her husband, David Harris, was serving time in a Texas prison for draft evasion. This new album is also represented by her intriguing "Love Song To A Stranger," and her interpretation of John Lennon's classic, "Imagine."
Dylan also figures prominently in this set through the Baez original, "To Bobby" (also included on the Come From the Shadows album), a reading of his Basement Tapes classic "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and one of her finest Dylan covers, "Love is Just a Four-Letter Word." Written by Dylan circa 1965, this song has long been associated with Baez, who can be seen singing a fragment of this song in a hotel room, when it was still unfinished, in Dont Look Back, the film documenting Dylan's 1965 European tour. First recorded by Baez on her 1968 album of Dylan covers, she obviously holds a special place for this song, recording it again for her most recent album.
A wonderfully surprising discovery here is the intense John Prine composition, "Sam Stone," which Baez never recorded herself, and several songs that were included in the Carry It On film soundtrack released the previous year, including her reading of "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" and the Edwin Hawkins Singers' "O Happy Day." A rare solo acoustic reading of the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is also featured here, which would eventually become one of her biggest hits. Both "Joe Hill" and "Sweet Sir Galahad," two songs that were included on Baez' 1970 album, One Day At a Time, but far more famous for their inclusion on the Woodstock soundtrack albums, also receive captivating readings here.
The last three songs of the set first give one a glimpse of the future, with "Rider, Pass By," a song destined for her next album the following year. Baez concludes the set with two vintage more traditional numbers, "Be Not Too Hard," a stand-out track from her 1967 album, Joan and then capping off the night with "Silver Dagger" from her 1960 debut.