Saturday, October 9, 2010

Joan Baez, Yet Again, Sings Bob Dylan On Any Day Now.

The Good: Good vocals, Great lyrics, Good duration, Generally decent duration.
The Bad: A few less-worthwhile tracks.
The Basics: A strong collection of covers of Bob Dylan songs, Any Day Now finds Joan Baez giving new life to some of his more obscure folk works!

Whenever I review a new (to me) musical artist and immerse myself in their works for the month, I tend to learn a lot. I grew up listening to Joan Baez mostly on car trips and around the house as she was one of my father’s favorite musical artists. I’m not sure yet how I feel about her works because the more I listen to her, the more I discover how much she is a performer instead of an artist who is constantly producing her own works. This was something of a shock to me as I listened to Any Day Now, which is Joan Baez singing a load of Bob Dylan songs.

Baez does something quite well, though, with the remastering of the old album: Any Day Now is presented on a single c.d. and it is appropriate because it easily fit there without wasting a second c.d. just to maintain the historic presence of the works on two physical albums. Remastered in stereo, Any Day Now is one of the best Joan Baez albums, only it is not truly much of her own work. Instead, Any Day Now is Joan Baez singing the works of Bob Dylan, and not the usual ones which Baez is associated (there’s no “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” on this one!).

With sixteen songs occupying 64:25, Any Day Now is a good use of the c.d. medium. While Bob Dylan wrote all of the songs, Joan Baez presents them on her own (vocally). She plays guitar on most every track as well. As one of Baez’s earlier studio albums, she was not involved in the production of the work. Given how much the works on this album sound like how she performs similar songs on later “live” albums, it is hard to argue that this is not the sound she intended.

Joan Baez is pretty much one woman with a guitar on Any Day Now. She is backed with minimal percussion and bass on songs like “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word.” On songs like “Dear Landlord,” the instrumentals are stripped back some and on songs like “I Pity The Poor Immigrant,” the guitars are so subdued compared to the vocals that the tune is hard to recall, even after multiple listens to the album. That said, the music is adequate for the purpose. Folk music is usually more about telling a musical story and on Any Day Now, Baez does that quite well.

Joan Baez is an impressive vocalist. While she is a soprano on many songs – clearly differentiating herself from the vocals of Bob Dylan – she goes lower on songs like “North County Blues.” Her ability to go into the lowest range of the alto register (and sometimes even lower) gives her a soulful sound that allows her to easily carry the mood and tenor of the songs that call for it. As well, Baez has amazing lung capacity, which makes songs like “One Too Many Mornings” a real treat to listen to. She is able to be expressive even as she holds notes and goes up scales on songs like “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”

Largely, the songs on Any Day Now are slow, long ballads performed by Joan Baez. The album has a sad, contemplative feel to it and most of the songs are musical storysongs that either have characters and protagonists or truly delve into the depths of a vital human emotion. The real exceptions to this are “Drifter’s Escape” and “Walkin’ Down The Line,” which are more upbeat and have recognizable drum sections which makes them sound far more active than the songs on the rest of the album.

As for the lyrics, Dylan wrote them, so they are pretty wonderful. Take, for example, “Dear Landlord.” On that song, Dylan – though Baez in this case – picks up the cause of social justice for housing by embodying a person who is set to be evicted. With Baez’s voice, Dylan masterfully expresses “Dear landlord / Please don’t put a price on my soul / My burden is heavy / My dreams are beyond control / When that steamboat whistle blows / I’m gonna give you all I got to give . . . Please don’t dismiss my case / I’m not about to argue / I’m not about to move to no other place / Now, each of us has his own special gift / And you know this was meant to be true / And if you don’t underestimate me / I won’t underestimate you” (“Dear Landlord”). To make a plea for the right to stay in a place is hard to do musically, but they do it perfectly on that song.

Ultimately, the album is largely cohesive and a great one for fans of folk music, so long as they like classic folk and not the newer folk-rock. Any Day Now has a very old feel to it and it is impressive how relevant its themes remain today as a result!

The best track is “I Pity The Poor Immigrant,” the low point is the unmemorable “The Walls Of Redwing.”

For other works by Joan Baez, please check out my reviews of:
The First 10 Years
Hits: Greatest And Others
Rare, Live And Classic
Baez Sings Dylan
Ring Them Bells


For other music reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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