Joan Baez

Prestige. If we’re being honest, we have to admit that it often plays an important role in getting us to listen to unfamiliar artists. It’s word of mouth, it’s position in the charts — and sometimes it’s association with another well-known act.

Joan Baez’s cachet falls under the last category: had she not been involved in Bob Dylan’s early years, I find it unlikely that she would have such longevity in her career. That’s not to say she isn’t talented, but it’s undeniable that a good portion of her legacy is folkloristic hype, and In Concert (Part 1) does nothing to dispute this.

In this performance, both originals and beloved staples of the folk genre such as ‘house carpenter,’ ‘pretty boy floyd,’ and even ‘kumbaya’ sound vexatious buried under Baez’s excessive vocal style.

A notable exception and perhaps the only stand-out from the album is ‘gospel ship’, a Carter Family tune that gives us a brief and surprisingly delightful respite from her incessant warbling soprano. For a moment the ‘queen of folk music’ title seems justified, and her frequent crescendos recede to reveal a voice capable of the minimalist sound emblematic of the folk genre.

Unfortunately, as soon as the song ends, her usual style returns and I return to wondering how folk singers like Peggy Seeger and Karen Dalton haven’t taken her place in history. Sometimes prestige is mislaid.

Posted: December 12, 2012

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