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Gracias a la vida!
on 5 August 2004
Very few people can be said to have changed the world - even fewer of them to have done so through song. Joan Baez is one of the few, so those expecting this collection to contain a string of glorious protest songs in the "We Shall Overcome" mode may be disappointed. The recordings on this album are of a later vintage and show a more introspective Joan. What they do, however, is showcase one of the most angelic voices ever recorded - the voice of an artist with tremendous passion and soul, and an unfailing ear for a beautiful melody.
The opening track, "Diamonds and Rust", is sheer haunting melancholy, an ode to the wreckage left by a departed lover; and it sets the standard for much of the album, walking a fine line between heartbreak and whimsy. "Love Song to a Stranger", "Sweeter for Me", "I Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" all mine the same rich vein of romantic angst, while only the delightful "Please Come to Boston" provides a more hopeful side to love. These are strong, mature songs a world away from the teenage dreams (and nightmares) of the average pop chart. There is some revisiting of the Bob Dylan repertoire with "Forever Young" and "Simple Twist of Fate" (including an inspired pastiche of Dylan's own vocal style in the latter!), a breath of Latin fresh air in "Gracias a la Vida", and finally (and no Baez compilation could be complete without them) a couple of protest songs. Baez's "Imagine" is a world away from the hippie sentimentality of Lennon's original recording, and does much to reclaim the song from the territory of cliche. And "Billy Rose" is an impassioned outburst against the American penal system seen through the eyes of three of its victims, a song that never fails to wrench at my guts.
Anyone with an interest in the melodic and thematic territory of modern singer-poetesses such as Suzanne Vega or Jewel would be well advised to give this album a listen. Joan Baez was the first of her kind, and inspired a generation.