Written by 8:48 am Audiophile Music, High End Audio

Two Fine Folk Albums from 2002

This week’s Friday CD Reviews feature two fine albums from 2002 that should warm the cockles of any folk music fan’s heart.


Joan BaezJoan Baez in Concert Part 1 & 2 

Each musical generation has a particular voice that typifies
its age. Frank Sinatra was indisputably “the voice” of his generation just as
Joan Baez is the voice for hers. She was the model for almost every single
female folk singer who has followed. Baez’ voice has a timbral purity and
directness that mates perfectly with both her material and geo-political
outlook. Even today this voice instantly conjures up images of pure country
maidens, untrammeled mountainsides, and self-righteous peace marchers. 

It was Vanguard’s chief executive Maynard Soloman’s idea to
record forty Joan Baez concerts between the fall of 1961 and the spring of
1963. He envisioned “The ideal Joan Baez concert” on vinyl. These two disks come
mighty close to realizing his vision. Rock and rollers may find it
disconcerting to hear Baez leading off with the Led Zeppelin classic  “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”, but her version
predates Led Zep’s heavy-metal rendition by nearly ten years. While her guitar
work bears absolutely no resemblance to Jimmy Page’s, she is no musical slouch.
Her flamenco-inspired arpeggios provide an effective accompaniment for her
voice as it soars in a way Robert Plant could only dream of in his wettest
reveries. Her commanding vocal instrument makes every song she covers into THE
consummate version, whether it’s the hoary old summer camp chestnut “Kumbaya”
or Marty Robbin’s “Streets of Laredo.” If Baez sings it, she owns it. 

Jeff Zaraya had the responsibility for converting the analog
master tapes to a 20-bit digital medium. Vanguard’s notes make a point of
stressing how the bass that was rolled off on the original vinyl has been
restored on these new CD’s. What bass? Except for the sounds of an occasional
footfall, there is precious little in the way of low frequencies to restore.
But to Zaraya’s credit the sound is superbly natural and has far wider dynamic
range and better clarity than most of the well-played samples of the original
disc that I’ve come across. Unfortunately on LPs, one play with a less than
perfectly setup phono cartridge and Baez’s voice acquires an extra bit of fur
and grit that were never on the original tapes. On these CD’s no matter how
loud Baez’s voice gets, it’s purity remains untrammeled by electronic stress
and strain.

The only problem with Joan
Baez in Concert Part 1 & 2
is that some of the material is hokey and
dated, and only listenable because of Joan Baez’ vocal instrument. Jewel, Sarah
McLachlan, and even Tori Amos vocal pyrotechniques have nothing on Baez. She’s
the original “Folk Diva.” 



The WinstonsComing Through

CD’s like this make it impossible for anyone but the terminally
and unhealthily hip argue that folk music is dead. Infectious melodies,
insightful lyrics, and aurally arresting arrangements make Coming Through one uncommonly good CD. The Winstons are made up of
Andy and Cheryl, husband and wife, who met while attending college in upstate
New York, and now live in Boulder, Colorado. Upon hearing their vocal duets you
can’t help but wonder if the synchronicity of their voices had some aphrodisiac
effect on their romance.

Coming Through is the
Winston’s third CD. Their first, Second
, came out in 1995, followed by Vignettes
in 1998. Coming Through includes
several members of the nationally syndicated radio show E-Town’s regular house
band, bassist Chris Engleman and drummer Christian Teele. Other guest musicians
include Hot Rize’s Tim O’Brien, Dobro and Lap steel whiz Sally Van Meter,
Groovelily Violinist Valerie Vigoda,  Ross Martin on Electric guitar, and Dotsero
keyboardist Tom Capek on Hammond B-3 organ. All except one song on the album, a
cover of Norman Blake’s “Ridge Road Gravel”, are original compositions. There’s
one lone instrumental, “Mother’s Day”, a hauntingly beautiful composition
featuring Andy’s acoustic guitar.

My personal favorite is a rockin’ number titled “Judy’s on the
Loose” with a hot double-stopped electric guitar solo and a killer chorus.
Production values throughout this album are well above the average
self-produced CD. Co-producers Cheryl and Andy chose some top talent to handle
the technical side of their album. Colorado Sound’s engineers Jeff Shuey and
Lorne Bregitzer, along with mastering engineer Tom Capek, assembled a very lush
aural landscape full of interesting percussion filigrees and well-defined
spatial effects. The title cut “Coming Through”, has an especially colorful
sonic palette.

Coming Through proves
that musical marriages can work beautifully.


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