Joan Baez – Noël (1966)

FrontCover1.jpgNoël was a Christmas album by Joan Baez, released in 1966. Working with composer Peter Schickele (PDQ Bach), Baez, for the first time, recorded an album outside the standard guitar-based folk format. (She would go on to work with Schickele on her next two albums, both of which also featured classical orchestration.) Unlike holiday albums by many other popular artists, Baez included mostly traditional material, avoiding more lighthearted or commercial fare in favor of a somber, understated tone. She included both familiar (“The Little Drummer Boy”) and more obscure (“Down in Yon Forrest”) material.

In her early days Joan Baez’s beautiful soprano rang like a bell, so it’s no surprise that it’s the perfect instrument for a set of ancient carols and Christmas favorites. Arranger Peter Schickele (of Public Radio International’s Schickele Mix and P.D.Q. Bach fame) wisely sets Baez off against a background of traditional instruments on this 1966 chestnut, mixing her honeyed tones with the burrs, tinkles, and whispers of lutes, harpsichords, and recorders. “Coventry Carol” is gorgeous, moving in a way that few holiday songs do anymore. “Carol of the Birds” is enchanting. And Baez’s quivery “Silent Night” is, quite simply, a gift. Noel (whose songs of peace were a quiet protest against the war in Vietnam) is an enduring, graceful classic. (byMichael Ruby)

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What makes this collection of Christmas music special is the unique quality of the singer’s voice. It has the purity of a classical artist’s. But many recordings by classical artists leave the words almost inaudible, since musical tone is emphasized at the expense of clear diction. As a folksinger, Joan follows in that tradition of articulating the words clearly, even when she sings in German and French, which she does in two of the carols. So she produces an almost perfect blend of musicality and vocalization–very satisfying and easy to listen to.
One other feature stands out–where the songs are devotional, Joan sings them with a wonderful depth of sincerity. A good example is her rendering of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” This is a prayer, after all–and Joan’s version is almost hypnotic in its meditative intensity. It is hard for me to imagine another artist producing a more satisfying version of the song.
All in all, a very recommendable album. (by Alexis)

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Personnel:
Joan Baez (guitar, vocals)
+ Orchestra conducted by Peter Schickele

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Tracklist:
01. O come, O come, Emmanuel (French Traditional) 3.03
02. Coventry Carol (English Traditional) 2.01
03. Good King Wenceslas (English Traditional) 0.28
04. The Little Drummer Boy (Davis/Onorati/Simeone) 3.04
05. I Wonder As I Wander (Traditional) 3.54
06. Bring A Torch, Jeanette, Isabella (Traditional) 0.40
07. Down In Yon Forrest (English Traditional) 1.42
08. The Carol Of The Birds (Catalan Traditional) 3.33
09. Angels We Have Heard On High (French Traditional) 1.22
10. Ave Maria (Schubert) (sung in German) 4.07
11. Mary´s Wandering (German Traditional) (sung in German) 3.19
12. Deck The Halls (Welsh Traditional) 0.23
13. Away In A Manger (Luther) 1.56
14. Adeste Fidelis (O come, all ye Faithful) (Latin Traditional) 0.51
15. Cantique de Noel (O Holy Night) (Adam) (sung in French) 3.50
16. What Child Is This (English Traditional) 3.03
17. Silent Night (Gruber) 2.25

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More from Joan Baez:

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