1972 Case File #92.


Joan Baez, Come From the Shadows

File Between: Shirley Collins and Utah Phillips

Comments: There is a certain kind of music listener who believes that Yoko Ono made more substantially meaningful music than John Lennon. I’m getting to the point where I might believe that Joan Baez’ music is more truthful than Bob Dylan’s. Come From the Shadows refuses the gnomic self-obsession that’s characterized Dylan’s music ever since 1966, and engages fully with the political world. From the cover shot of two elderly union strikers flashing peace signs while being frogmarched away by bemused cops, to Baez’ sleeve notes, full of righteous indignation about American atrocities in Vietnam, this is a deeply liberal, even radical record — her notes end with a call to abandon capitalism, the army, and the nation state — and the music in the grooves, if it doesn’t quite reach as far (she covers Arthur Alexander and Kenny Rogers, and fronts a collection of Nashville session players), is still lyrically unsparing. She calls for the abolition of the prison system, expresses solidarity with the people of newly-independent Bangladesh, delivers a hurt and scathing rebuke to Dylan’s dropping out of political music, and draws parallels between unionism and feminism in a series of songs that are, sickeningly, no less relevant today than in 1972 — and given how utterly false the myth of the middle ground has proven to be, may be even more so. I don’t know of anybody making such clearly engaged, forcefully expressed, and seductively beautiful music today: even if idealistic liberalism remains the default political stance of most musicians today, Dylan’s isolated self-plumbing is the default mode, and everyone (except a handful of rappers) is too afraid of being called strident. Many, many records have ended with a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” — this is one of the few that deserves to. Thank God for Joan Baez.

A Keeper? I think so.

Vinyl Rip: The Partisan

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