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Diamonds & Rust
Joan Baez

A&M 4527
Released: May 1975
Chart Peak: #11
Weeks Charted: 46
Certified Gold: 11/11/75

Joan BaezListening to this Joan Baez album -- her first self-declaredly apolitical, decidedly commercial album since the days of folk-rock -- it is possible to point out awkward metaphors and to spot lines that don't scan smoothly; the title tune, addressed to a past lover who suddenly telephones, even contains the line "My poetry was lousy, you said." And there will be those so put off by Baez "daring" to put her voice to the service of tunes written by the likes of Jackson Browne ("Fountain of Sorrow") and the recent Dylan ("Simple Twist of Fate") that they will remain closed to the power of this record. But if spirit and strength and beauty are not screened out by one or another form of snobbery, what comes through is consistently moving and often gorgeous.

Four of the 11 cuts are Baez compositions and they provide many of the most satisfying and personal moments. "Children and All That Jazz," propelled by Hampton Hawe's split-second piano licks, is a fast, funny and touching domestic documentary:

Here comes my own son...
Brighter than you please
Say that he loves me
Big as the world and Gabriel Harris
You go to bed now...
It's quarter to nine,
I'm tired, I'm tired, I'm tired.

The folk-flavored "Winds of the Old Days" is acknowledged to have been written in response to Dylan's return to public concerts. It's a lovely song but it seems to me nearly half this album concerns Dylan, if you include "Simple Twist." "Diamonds & Rust," with its reference to "that crummy hotel over Washington Square," cannot but be linked in listeners' minds with a well-publicized affair; but it is Baez's images and delivery that make this such a sweet, stern heartbreaker. Given her rendition -- inseparably a part of its success -- it's as effective a composition as any of the more famous songs on the album.

Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright's "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" is done up with moog and ARP strings, but a strong rhythm section gives it its spine and Joan's sorrow and integrity shine through. A large part of her gift is this ability to deal unashamedly with emotion. She's not afraid to let a whole lot of feeling just flow, channeled through that beautiful vocal instrument which favors simple phrasings that speak a true language of the heart. None could make more poignant the straight, unanswerable question at "Summer"'s end: "Why didn't you stay?"

The finale is the medley, "I Dream of Jeannie" wed to "Danny Boy," which Joan sings to the sole accompaniment of Larry Knetchel's piano. An unabashedly stirring track, it distills the very endearing qualities that will make Baez "relevant" as long as honest feeling is valued.

- Tom Nolan, Rolling Stone, 7/31/75.

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With all due respect for political concerns Joan Baez has been pretty much of a commercial (and in some cases an artistic) flop with her last two LPs. This brilliant set more than makes amends. Ms. Baez has made singing her primary concern again and demonstrates that few contemporaries can match her in voice and style. Choosing material from the likes of Dylan (of whom she does an uncanny imitation), John Prine, Janis Ian, the Allman Bros., and adding a few excellent originals, Ms. Baez is easily as commercial as anyone else in today's marketplace without sacrificing quality. Mixing ballads, straight ahead rock (which she does quite well), country flavored material, and torchy songs, the artist adds variety as another important ingredient. Absolutely no reason why Joan should not become a major force on the recording scene once again. More than anything, the LP demonstrates that true talent never disappears. The kind of album that should satisfy old fans and bring in new ones. AM hit is possible. Best cuts: "Fountain Of Sorrow," "Children And All That Jazz," "Simple Twist Of Fate," "Blue Sky," "Hello In There," "Jesse."

- Billboard, 1975.

Baez's peak as a songwriter (title track) and folk/rock interpreter, singing songs of Jackson Browne, John Prine, and Bob Dylan. * * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

With diamond-sharp stylings and no rust whatsoever, the enduring queen of folk tackles everyone from the Allman Brothers to John Prine to Bob Dylan (her self-penned haunting title song recounts their relationship) on what's perhaps her most commercial success. It's a fine return to form by the mature Baez -- her achingly pure soprano, as impassioned as ever, leaves listeners in a state between euphoria and bittersweet sadness. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

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