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Pop - Released January 1, 2003 | A&M

A month-and-a-half after the release of her first studio recording in six years, and perhaps her finest recording since 1975's Diamonds & Rust, Joan Baez's complete A&M recordings offer a revelatory view of the artist at her most adventurous. Baez's tenure with A&M lasted from 1972-1976 and yielded five studio albums, a live recording, and three non-album singles. All of them are included here on four CDs with gorgeously remastered sound, a deluxe package with exhaustive, insightful, and unflinching liner notes by Arthur Levy, and a package that should win a Grammy for design and presentation if nothing else. Baez, regarded in the popular culture at large as a "folk" or "topical" singer (the latter term she would not refute, the former hasn't fit her for some time), has always been a restless artist. This box set offers proof that Baez's switch to A&M -- then an independent, now swallowed whole by Universal -- from Vanguard, facilitated a virtual renaissance for her not just creatively, but on the charts as well. This reappraisal is necessary, given Baez's most recent recordings have reflected another shift in her sound and concerns, away from being a songwriter to being an interpreter of fine, edgy, roots songs by a whole slew of younger writers -- and her seeming embrace of the electric guitar. The earliest evidence of Baez's rambling vision can be heard on her experimental album Baptism, from 1968. Upon moving to A&M, and recording from her Nashville studio base, Baez released her self-produced Come From The Shadows (with help from Norbert Putnam), featuring -- like her latter day Vanguard recordings -- a host of Nashville's finest musicians, which included David Paul Briggs, Pete Drake, Kenneth A. Buttrey, Charlie McCoy, and Grady Martin. It was certainly a political record, but it also included the stunning "Love Song To A Stranger," and her sister Mimi Fariña's "In The Quiet Morning," written in memory of Janis Joplin. The other half of Disc One is comprised of Where Are You Now, My Son from 1973, co-produced by Baez and Henry Lewy. It included a slew of originals by Baez, including the title track, a pair of songs by Fariña, and Hoyt Axton's "Less Than A Song." Most importantly, it was a move toward something outside of the country-rock realm she'd been toying with. That "something" first occurs on Disc Two with her traditional album of Latin folk and topical songs from Gracias a la Vida, and, of course, 1975's Diamonds and Rust with David Kershenbaum helping her out in the production room. The latter album, heard so many years after the fact of its inception and release, has Baez experimenting with soul -- Stevie Wonder's "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer"; hard country: Dickey Betts' "Blue Sky,"; and moving around toward Dylan once again, as she was part of the Rolling Thunder Review, with a stellar version of "Simple Twist Of Fate," as well as the legendary title track. Along with it, Baez wrote four songs, and recorded others by John Prine, and Jackson Browne, and offered a deeply moving rendition of Stephen Foster's "I Dream of Jeannie" melded with "Danny Boy." It was the masterpiece that both critics and fans knew she was capable of delivering and had been leading up to since Blessed Are.., her final album for Vanguard. It, along with most everything here, has aged well and endures. Disc Three features the second half of Diamonds and Rust, and another fine, if criminally under-appreciated, album Gulf Winds, released in October of 1976 and comprised entirely of Baez originals. Disc Four features one of the best live recordings from the 1970s, From Every Stage, compiled from a handful of shows and not enhanced in any way. Some of the members of her road band included no less than one of Motown's Funk Brothers in bassist James Jamerson, drummer Jim Gordon, pianist David Briggs, and guitarist Larry Carlton. Moving across the space of her entire career, it is a moving, engaging, and utterly transcendent recording, offered in an era when live records sucked -- they were no longer live but edited heavily in the studio. This box features each album's original liner notes, as well as a host of stunning photographs. But besides the elegant package, the music tells the story of an artist who pushed herself beyond the laurels of her living legend, who worked at trying to find, in the swirling winds of change, a complexity outside her accepted norm, and finally, a relevant, constantly evolving place for herself as an artist. The evidence is in: she succeeded in spades. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Pop - Released May 1, 1975 | A&M

Joan Baez's landmark Diamonds & Rust found her at the peak of her singer/songwriter skills, seemingly capable of transitioning out of '60s protest mode into a more contemporary and commercially viable position. It was also around this time that she toured with Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, and according to Baez's memoirs, she wrote the songs for Gulf Winds during that tour. But Gulf Winds, her last A&M album, was a significant drop off and marked the beginning of what would be a steep commercial decline. Produced by David Kershenbaum, the album tries its best to bolster Baez with a timely '70s studio sound, but for the most part it misses the mark. The songs just aren't up to the task. "Sweeter for Me" sports a nice arppegiated piano by Baez and faintly harks to the melancholy brilliance of Diamonds & Rust, but, lyrically, most of the material is overwritten. The more stinging, faster-paced "O Brother!" is a more successful stab at a commercial sound, and Baez sings it with a bitter venom (you can't help but speculate that the song refers to Dylan himself). The standout track on an otherwise forgettable album, though, is surely the title track, "Gulf Winds," a ten-and-a-half-minute solo epic in the mold of her early work, just Joan and her acoustic guitar, brilliantly picked and sung, ironically demonstrating that, although Baez still had the talent, she couldn't capitalize on the success of Diamonds and Rust and the times were passing her by. © Jim Esch /TiVo
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Pop - Released May 1, 1975 | A&M

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Joan Baez's landmark Diamonds & Rust found her at the peak of her singer/songwriter skills, seemingly capable of transitioning out of '60s protest mode into a more contemporary and commercially viable position. It was also around this time that she toured with Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, and according to Baez's memoirs, she wrote the songs for Gulf Winds during that tour. But Gulf Winds, her last A&M album, was a significant drop off and marked the beginning of what would be a steep commercial decline. Produced by David Kershenbaum, the album tries its best to bolster Baez with a timely '70s studio sound, but for the most part it misses the mark. The songs just aren't up to the task. "Sweeter for Me" sports a nice arppegiated piano by Baez and faintly harks to the melancholy brilliance of Diamonds & Rust, but, lyrically, most of the material is overwritten. The more stinging, faster-paced "O Brother!" is a more successful stab at a commercial sound, and Baez sings it with a bitter venom (you can't help but speculate that the song refers to Dylan himself). The standout track on an otherwise forgettable album, though, is surely the title track, "Gulf Winds," a ten-and-a-half-minute solo epic in the mold of her early work, just Joan and her acoustic guitar, brilliantly picked and sung, ironically demonstrating that, although Baez still had the talent, she couldn't capitalize on the success of Diamonds and Rust and the times were passing her by. © Jim Esch /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1972 | A&M

With the Vietnam War winding down, Joan Baez, who had devoted one side of her last album to her trip to Hanoi, delivered the kind of commercial album A&M Records must have wanted when it signed her three years earlier. But she did it on her own terms, putting together a session band of contemporary jazz veterans like Larry Carlton, Wilton Felder, and Joe Sample, and mixing a wise selection from the work of current singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne and John Prine with pop covers of Stevie Wonder and the Allman Brothers Band, and an unusually high complement of her own writing. A&M, no doubt recalling the success of her cover of the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," released her version of the Allmans' "Blue Sky" as a single, and it got halfway up the charts. But the real hit was the title track, a self-penned masterpiece on the singer's favorite subject, her relationship with Bob Dylan. Outdoing the current crop of confessional singer/songwriters at soul baring, Baez sang to Dylan, reminiscing about her '60s love affair with him intensely, affectionately, and unsentimentally. It was her finest moment as a songwriter and one of her finest performances, period, and when A&M finally released it on 45, it made the Top 40, propelling the album to gold status. But those who bought the disc for "Diamonds & Rust" also got to hear "Winds of the Old Days," in which Baez forgave Dylan for abandoning the protest movement, as well as the jazzy "Children and All That Jazz," a delightful song about motherhood, and the wordless vocals of "Dida," a duet with Joni Mitchell accompanied by Mitchell's backup band, Tom Scott and the L.A. Express. The cover songs were typically accomplished, making this the strongest album of Baez's post-folk career. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1972 | A&M

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With the Vietnam War winding down, Joan Baez, who had devoted one side of her last album to her trip to Hanoi, delivered the kind of commercial album A&M Records must have wanted when it signed her three years earlier. But she did it on her own terms, putting together a session band of contemporary jazz veterans like Larry Carlton, Wilton Felder, and Joe Sample, and mixing a wise selection from the work of current singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne and John Prine with pop covers of Stevie Wonder and the Allman Brothers Band, and an unusually high complement of her own writing. A&M, no doubt recalling the success of her cover of the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," released her version of the Allmans' "Blue Sky" as a single, and it got halfway up the charts. But the real hit was the title track, a self-penned masterpiece on the singer's favorite subject, her relationship with Bob Dylan. Outdoing the current crop of confessional singer/songwriters at soul baring, Baez sang to Dylan, reminiscing about her '60s love affair with him intensely, affectionately, and unsentimentally. It was her finest moment as a songwriter and one of her finest performances, period, and when A&M finally released it on 45, it made the Top 40, propelling the album to gold status. But those who bought the disc for "Diamonds & Rust" also got to hear "Winds of the Old Days," in which Baez forgave Dylan for abandoning the protest movement, as well as the jazzy "Children and All That Jazz," a delightful song about motherhood, and the wordless vocals of "Dida," a duet with Joni Mitchell accompanied by Mitchell's backup band, Tom Scott and the L.A. Express. The cover songs were typically accomplished, making this the strongest album of Baez's post-folk career. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1976 | A&M

Listening to this album a quarter century after the fact is an eerie experience; as a Baez fan of the same period and of a politically similar orientation at the time, this reviewer was shocked by the vitriol of the opening number, "(Ain't Gonna Let Nobody) Turn Me Around," especially given that the shows where this album was recorded dated from 1975. Was anyone (except maybe the Reagan-ites) ever really that angry at the Ford administration? Otherwise, Baez's trembling falsetto is in beautiful shape on songs ranging from Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" to "Oh, Happy Day." The album was recorded on the tour supporting the release of Diamonds & Rust, but nothing of that album except the title track is represented here; rather, Baez performs five Bob Dylan songs (which get the most rousing reception), three of her better originals, including "Blessed Are" and "Diamonds and Rust," and a brace of traditional songs and covers of a handful of other composers' work, including "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Apart from the opening outpouring of political venom, there's not too much controversy here -- a pair of songs, "Natalia" and "The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzett," dedicated to political prisoners and an ambitious but ultimately awkward adaptation of "Stewball" are as topical as most of the show gets. Baez is in superb voice and the backing septet, mostly heard on the second disc, has a surprisingly lean sound. Ultimately, From Every Stage is a good, albeit far slicker follow-up to Baez's two early-'60s live albums on Vanguard, though it says something about the nature of her history at A&M Records that five years into her contract with that label, all but a handful of the songs here were associated with her prior record label. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released November 1, 1976 | A&M

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After recording for the folk label Vanguard for more than a decade, Baez moved to A&M. On this label debut, she maintained her interest in country music, recording in Nashville with some of the city's session aces. She also continued to dedicate herself to radical politics, from her set opener "Prison Trilogy," which pledged, "We're gonna raze the prisons to the ground," to the closer, John Lennon's "Imagine." In between were her call on Bob Dylan to return to protest music ("To Bobby") and her sister Mimi Farina's touching tribute to Janis Joplin, "In the Quiet Morning." © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released April 1, 1973 | A&M

This isn't only not the place to start listening to Joan Baez, it's the album that separates the true fans from the, um, fellow travelers. Side two is taken up by the title song, a musical account of Baez's trip to Hanoi over Christmas of 1972, complete with the sound of U.S. bombs falling on the city. Side one, on the other hand, contains one of Baez's best original songs, "A Young Gypsy," and two by her sister, "Mary Call" and "Best of Friends." © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released November 1, 1977 | A&M

A&M's 1977 collection The Best of Joan Baez doesn't chronicle her most influential work, but that doesn't mean it's not without merit. Far from it, actually. This is a concise recapping of her poppier recordings for A&M, which include such classic Baez moments as her original "Diamonds and Rust" and a definitive reading of Robbie Robertson's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." The rest of the album splits the difference between covers (including Stevie Wonder's lovely "I Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" and Dylan's "Simple Twist of Fate") and originals, providing an entertaining, enlightening encapsulation of her '70s recordings. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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World - Released April 1, 1974 | A&M

Despite her Latin heritage, Joan Baez probably wouldn't have been encouraged by her 1960s record label, the New York-based independent Vanguard, to sing an entire album in Spanish. At A&M Records, the Los Angeles firm co-founded by Herb Alpert that she joined in the early '70s, however, it would have been a different story, and it was A&M that released Gracias a la Vida ("Here's to Life") in 1974. Baez demonstrates an affinity for Mexican folk music on such obvious choices as "Cucurrucucu Paloma," but it's no surprise that, a year after the assassination of leading nueva canción folksinger Victor Jara in a military coup in Chile, an atrocity that shocked the American folk community, she has not backed away from her political commitments. There is "Guantanamera," a song that may have been a Top Ten U.S. hit for the Sandpipers in 1966, but that has political implications, as Pete Seeger has been reminding listeners for more than a decade. There is a Spanish version of "We Shall Not Be Moved" ("No Nos Moveran") with a lengthy spoken introduction. There are songs like "El Preso Numero Nueve" ("Prisoner Number Nine"; repeated from 1960's Joan Baez) and "Esquinazo del Guerrillero" ("The Guerillas Serenade"). And, inevitably, there is a song of Jara's, "Te Recuerdo Amanda" ("I Remember You Amanda"), which the slain singer wrote for his mother. But then there is also "Dida," a wordless duet with Joni Mitchell. Throughout, Baez demonstrates her mastery of Spanish singing over authentic arrangements while attempting to stir up her Spanish-speaking listeners just as she does their English-speaking compatriots. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released October 19, 1999 | A&M

It may not be a definitive collection -- after all, it bypasses all of her influential '60s recordings -- but the Joan Baez installment of 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection is a good overview of her recordings for A&M, featuring such highlights as "Diamonds and Rust," "Fountain of Sorrow," "Hello in There," "Dida," "Jesse," "In the Quiet Morning," "Gracias a la Vida," "Forever Young," and a live version of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." There may be some good songs missing, but this isn't a bad choice for budget-minded casual fans. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released November 1, 1976 | A&M

After recording for the folk label Vanguard for more than a decade, Baez moved to A&M. On this label debut, she maintained her interest in country music, recording in Nashville with some of the city's session aces. She also continued to dedicate herself to radical politics, from her set opener "Prison Trilogy," which pledged, "We're gonna raze the prisons to the ground," to the closer, John Lennon's "Imagine." In between were her call on Bob Dylan to return to protest music ("To Bobby") and her sister Mimi Farina's touching tribute to Janis Joplin, "In the Quiet Morning." © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released May 7, 1996 | A&M

Greatest Hits is a reasonably comprehensive collection of Joan Baez's best-known songs, concentrating mainly on her crossover hits. Although it misses several fine items, the compilation remains an effective introduction for the curious listener. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released April 1, 1973 | A&M

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This isn't only not the place to start listening to Joan Baez, it's the album that separates the true fans from the, um, fellow travelers. Side two is taken up by the title song, a musical account of Baez's trip to Hanoi over Christmas of 1972, complete with the sound of U.S. bombs falling on the city. Side one, on the other hand, contains one of Baez's best original songs, "A Young Gypsy," and two by her sister, "Mary Call" and "Best of Friends." © William Ruhlmann /TiVo