Folksingers 'Round Harvard Square
Joan Baez, Bill Wood and Ted Alevizos
Veritas Records 1
This is easily the most collectible of Joan Baez's officially released records, I sometimes see it priced over $100 which I think is ridiculous if you are going to value it on the basis of quality. I like Joanie and have most of her Vanguard albums all of which are much better than this and a whole lot cheaper as well. I paid about fifteen bucks for my copy which I think is still a bit high but I am glad I have it. Of course the record is collectible because of its rarity much more than the music. It was recorded in Boston in 1959 when Baez was beginning her rise to stardom and prior to her signing with Vanguard. She shares the bill with two other Boston area folk singers, Bill Wood and Ted Alevizos both of whom retreated into academia after this record although Alevizos recorded some albums of Greek folk music as well. Baez dominates the record appearing on ten of the eighteen cuts including six solo performances. She also dominates talent-wise. Wood is a competent singer with a pleasant voice and a good guitar player but his music is completely ordinary. Alevizos has a wonderful voice but his style is old-fashioned. Even on the tentative performances she offers on this record, Baez's charisma and expressiveness are impactful. The record opens with the traditional murder ballad "On the Banks of the Ohio" which Baez recorded again in a superior version on "Joan Baez, Vol. 2." She sings it prettily but without much feeling which is fine with me since I dislike this genre of folk song anyway. She perks up on the spiritual "O What a Beautiful City" which gives her an opportunity to display the electifying power of her voice when she chooses to unleash it full force. My favorite of the six solo performances is her version of the old folk song "Sail Away Ladies." I'd prefer a rawer country arrangement but there is no denying the appeal of Baez voice in full flight. "Black is the Color" is not my type of song but I can't fault the beauty of Baez's interpretation although she gives a stronger performance of the song on "Joan Baez In Concert Part 1." I think anyone who heard her perform this would know she was going to be a star. "Lowlands" is an old sea shanty that she sings in a far too subdued manner for my liking. "What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby" is a religious song about the birth of Jesus also known as "Mary Mary" and "Virgin Mary." I don't like the song but Baez's strong vocal makes it tolerable to me. "Kitty" is a duet between Baez and Wood. She sings harmony for the most part but has a verse for herself. Needless to say I find myself focusing entirely on Baez although I like the vigor of Wood's guitar work. It was originally recorded by the ballad duo Marais and Miranda. "So Soon in the Morning" is an uptempo spiritual driven by Wood's dynamic guitar. Baez does not have much space to do her thing but it is an engaging track. The country flavored "Careless Love" is my favorite track on the record. Baez mostly sings harmony but I find her loose and playful performance charming, even a little bit sexy. The song is about the consequences of premarital sex. Bill Wood kicks off side one with his solo performance of "Le cheval dans la baignoire" (misspelled "beignoire" on the cover) which was written by the French singer Stéphane Golmann (also misspelled on the cover.) Wood starts the song by reciting the story of the song in English and then he sings the song in French. It is an energetic performance mostly played for humor. "John Henry" is such a familiar song I don't see the point of covering it. I like Wood's energetic fast-paced guitar work but his vocal is not up to the task of making his cover interesting. "Travelin' Shoes" is a nice I-gotta-ramble type song that needs more grit than Wood can provide. "The Bold Soldier" is an old fashioned style performance akin to the likes of Burl Ives who recorded the song himself. Ted Alevizos takes his turn with the mournful "Walie Walie" which is also known as "When Cockle Shells Turn Silver Bells." He sings the song beautifully but his performance could have been recorded in the 1920s, he makes Baez seem even more utterly contemporary by comparison. This is also the case with the glacially slow "Rejected Lover." "Astrapsen" is a Greek song that inspires Alevizos to deliver his most animated performance. I like it so much that I'd probably be tempted to buy one of his Greek records if I came across a cheap one in the bins. Unfortunately the energy of this song dissipates with the dreary "Lass From the Low Country" which puts me to sleep. The album ends on a high note with a stirring performance by the trio on the spiritual "Don't Weep After Me." Alevizos is a strong singer but Baez cuts right through him with her soaring soprano but she is nice enough not to overwhelm her partners too often although it obvious she could blow them off the stage. I don't encourage anyone to run out and grab this record unless you are a Joan Baez completist with deep pockets. I like parts of it but there aren't enough of those parts to get me to sit through the whole thing very often. Side one is all Baez and I imagine most owners of this record just play that side but I would rather just listen to one of her early Vanguard albums. If you are a fan of commercial folk music from the 1940s and 1950s and you come across a reasonably priced copy of this, you probably won't regret buying it. It is too genteel for me but I appreciate its merits. Recommended to fans of the Weavers.