Two Fine Folk Albums from 2002


Joan Baez - Joan 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 Winstons - Coming 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 Chance, 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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