JOAN BAEZ – The Complete Gold Castle Masters (Proper PROPCD141)

Joan BaezWithout a label and not having not made a studio album since 1979’s Honest Lullaby, in 1987 Joan Baez got back into the ring, signing with Danny Goldberg’s new Gold Castle with whom, over the next two years, she would release three albums (along with the Brothers In Arms compilation) before inking with Virgin.

These are now gathered together in this 3CD set, along with various bonus cuts, the first up being her ‘comeback’, ‘Recently’, the title track concerning the break up of her marriage to David Harris, the track ‘James and the Gang’ being about the kid who, with Baez away on frequent tours, led their then teenage son Gabe to drop out of school and get mixed up with drink and drugs. They’re the only two Baez originals here, the other tracks including her brooding interpretations of Mark Knopfler’s ‘Brothers In Arms’ and, backed by just a stormclouds drone, U2’s ‘MLK’, Jimmy Webb’s ‘The Moon Is Harsh Mistress’, Peter Gabriel’s ‘Biko’, a gospel infused version of Moman and Penn classic ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’ and, sung in the original Zulu, Johnny Clegg’s ‘Asimbonanga’, for which she earned a Grammy nomination. The album was rounded out with a live recording of the traditional ‘Let Us Break Bread Together/Oh Freedom’, the reissue now adding the previously unreleased ‘Lebanon’ from early Steely Dan member David Palmer, recorded during the same sessions.

Her second studio set, Speaking Of Dreams, followed in 1989 and followed the same mix of material, opening with the politically charged ‘China’, inspired by the Tiananmen Square protests, followed by the reggae rhythms of the equally political ‘Warriors of the Sun’. The piano ballad title track was the only other self-penned number while the traditional quota was filled by an harp backed ‘Carrickfergus’ and, produced by and featuring Paul Simon, his South African inspired ‘Rambler Gambler/Whispering Bells’ interpolation.

A second duet teams her with Jackson Browne for Greg Copeland’s slow waltzing protest number ‘El Salvador’, with the original album completed by David Massengill’s folksy ‘Fairfax County’, a percussive third person rework of ‘Hand To Mouth’, the B-side of George Michael’s solo debut, and, backed by the Gypsy Kings, ‘A Mi Manera’, Paul Anka’s ‘My Way’ sung in Spanish (initially omitted by added to subsequent releases).

The reissue adds the two numbers left off the album (and featured on the 1991 compilation), her cover of Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight Saigon’ and the full seven minute version of ‘Warriors of the Sun’ which segued into Tracy Chapman’s ‘She’s Got A Ticket’.

The third CD, released in 1988, is the live recording Diamonds and Rust in the Bullring (her first official live release in the US) , recorded in Bilbao, Spain, with five of the 12 songs sung in Spanish (‘El Preso Numero Nueve’ revisiting her 1960 debut while ‘Ellas Danzan Solas is Sting’s ‘They Dance Alone’) and one (‘Txoria Txori’) in Basque. The English language numbers include gospel staples ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ and, with Mavis Staples, ‘Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around’ alongside Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry’, ‘Let It Be’ (a gospel reading surely influenced by Billy Preston’s version) and, of course the definitive version of classic title track itself.

For a variety of reasons, the albums never found their audience at the time, the label declaring bankruptcy in 1992, but three decades after they were recorded, and following Baez’s recent 75th birthday celebrations, they’re due to some serious long overdue attention.

Mike Davies

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‘Diamonds And Rust’ live. (Not the version on this album.)

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