Joan Baez – Self-Titled

More Pure Folk Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joan Baez

  • Stunning sound on this original Vanguard stereo pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to it
  • Glorious All Tube chain recording quality, kicked up a few levels on this pressing because it beat all comers on side one and came in close on side two, with vinyl that is going to play as quietly as any early pressing ever will
  • One of Joan Baez’s best sounding albums in our experience, shockingly free of artificiality – play it against your favorite female vocal to hear the difference
  • 140 weeks on the charts and Five AMG Stars: “…a brace of traditional songs (most notably “East Virginia” and “Mary Hamilton”) with an urgency and sincerity that makes the listener feel as though they were being sung for the first time…”

This former member of the TAS list is the kind of recording that has everything going for it: Golden Age equipment in a live acoustic with a simple arrangement for voice and guitar (or two).

The voice and the material come together nicely. If I were to recommend only one Joan Baez record it would surely have to be this one. Diamonds and Rust is a nice pop album but I think if you go back and play it today you will find that it sounds somewhat dated. Good folk tunes like the ones found on this album, however, never seem to go out of style.

The record sounds like a live demo session because that is exactly what it is:

In 1983 Baez described the making of the album to Rolling Stone’s Kurt Loder:”…It took four days. We recorded it in the ballroom of some hotel in New York, way up by the river. We could use the room every day except Tuesday, because they played Bingo there on Tuesdays. It was just me on this filthy rug. There were two microphones, one for the voice and one for the guitar. I just did my set. It was probably all I knew how to do at that point. I did ‘Mary Hamilton’ once and that was it…That’s the way we made ’em in the old days. As long as a dog didn’t run through the room or something, you had it…”

Refreshing Sound

The purity and complete freedom from distortion allow the listener to imagine himself, to borrow a phrase, in the Living Presence of the performer. With a record this good it takes no effort whatsoever to suspend disbelief and imagine Joan and her guitar directly in front of you, a command performance if you will.

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These Liberty pressings are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.

This record is the very definition of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made that sound like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There is a CD of this album, and youtube videos of the music too, but those of us with a good turntable could care less.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1960
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For on Joan Baez’s Debut

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Keys to the Best Sounding Pressings

Copies with rich lower mids did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural ambience and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to pressings from every era and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.


Side One

Silver Dagger 
East Virginia 
Fare Thee Well 
House of the Rising Sun
All My Trials 
Wildwood Flower 
Donna Donna

Side Two

John Riley
Rake and Rambling Boy 
Little Moses 
Mary Hamilton 
Henry Martin 
El Preso Numero Nueve

AMG Review

Baez’s first album, made up primarily of traditional songs (including a startling version of “House of the Rising Sun”), was beguiling enough to woo even conservative-leaning listeners. Accompanied by the Weavers’ Fred Hellerman and a pair of session singers, Baez gives a fine account of the most reserved and least confrontational aspects of the folk revival, presenting a brace of traditional songs (most notably “East Virginia” and “Mary Hamilton”) with an urgency and sincerity that makes the listener feel as though they were being sung for the first time, and opening with a song that was to become her signature piece for many years, “Silver Dagger.”