Joan Baez: Barbara Allen
I must be out of my mind. Last week was jazz singers week, and it was a labor of love for me. But it was a labor, a lot of work. So this week is folk music week. As before, there is this post, to be followed by an all folk Spotlight Special for the weekend post. And things will wrap up with a folk music album review. So, to get things rolling…
I was introduced to jazz singing by an artist I already knew for other music. Folk music was different. My parents emphasized classical music above all else, but there was still folk music around. We received radio signals from New York City, and one of the classical stations there had a folk show on Saturday nights, called Woody’s Children. Also, my parents had 78s by Paul Robeson. Now Robeson was not a folk singer, but much of his material was traditional, especially spirituals. Finally, I attended marches against the Vietnam War from age eight on, and so I got to hear Peter Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, and many others I don’t even remember anymore. But all exerted a subtle influence on my musical taste, and all of this is a big part of why Oliver di Place sounds the way it does. Nevertheless, when I began to put together my own album collection, folk music did not have a place at first.
It was a friend in high school who made it OK for me to embrace folk music. He played cello, acoustic guitar, mountain dulcimer, and banjo. He could pick up pretty much anything with strings and make it sound good. At the height of the disco era, he was an oddball. But my friends and I in high school loved science fiction and Monty Python, and to fit in with us you had to be different. One of the first albums he played for me was by Joan Baez, and I had to have a copy of my own. It wasn’t easy to find in those days; there was no Amazon or even a Tower Records. Instead, I found it in good condition at a flea market. Treasure!
As I discovered the music of Joan Baez, I was immediately taken with the song Barbara Allen, and it is clearly still a favorite. The final image of the rose and briar intertwined introduced me to a kind of poetry I had never encountered before. I still find this to be one of the most hauntingly romantic lyrics I know.