Advent calendar: December 13—Joan Baez, “I Wonder as I Wander”
Joan Baez, “I Wonder as I Wander” (1966)
Vanguard VSD – 79230
My impression of Joan Baez as a kind of schoolmarmish figure was confirmed when I saw her at a 1986 Amnesty International benefit dedicate a clunky version of “No Woman, No Cry” to the victims of apartheid. Nice sentiment, but it came off as a mom trying to relate to the kids. So I was inclined to pass this album over until I saw that the arrangements were by Joan’s Vanguard label-mate Peter Schickele (AKA professor of forensic music at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople and the discoverer, promoter, and performer of PDQ Bach’s works). With that irresistibly odd pairing as a hook, I dove in. It’s quite lovely, with a nicely sustained mood of quiet anticipation. Two standouts are a Catalan traditional song called “The Carol of the Birds,” which sounds like it could have been written by Villa-Lobos (Baez has recorded his “Bachianas Brasileiras”) and this haunting hymn collected and adapted by folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles.