There are some twenty or so Joan Baez releases on catalogue on this Ace Records website, but in many ways this 3CD box set is the jewel in the crown. It is a set that chronicles her career from the earliest of times, and it is her own unique and personal commentary on every track that guides us through. There are sixty tracks (with 22 of them being previously unreleased) assembled in chronological order, covering 1958 to 1989, that feature her journey from the more traditional early folk songs to the times when she began to interpret others' songs. Perhaps most notable on the set is the way that she has always been open to collaborations with other artists. Partly due to early stage fright when she sought out people to support her performances, and partly to a genuine openness to others' songs, messages and experiences it adds up to a fascinating portrait of Joan's rich artistic development. A lesser-known part of this development was her somewhat reticent emergence as a writer herself, exemplified by her first self-penned song ‘Sweet Sir Galahad here’ on Disc 2. Urged on by Bob Dylan to write, it is hard from the quality to believe that it was her first.
Joan's illuminating notes explain her thoughts about the various duets and collaborations that are spread throughout these three discs. The earliest are with her friends Bill Wood, Bob Gibson and Eric Von Schmidt, and after she had established herself she duets with Bob Dylan on three tracks, one with Donovan and several with her sister Mimi Farina, including one trio with Judy Collins. By 1969, after her husband David had been arrested for draft refusal, Joan teamed up with David's friend Jeffrey Shurtleff who supported her on tour at a difficult time, and three strong duets here, ‘Mama Tried’, ‘Sing Me Back Home’ and the traditional anthem-like ‘Angel Band’, show how well their two voices blended. The latter comes from when Joan sang on Jeffrey's own “State Farm” album. Joan combines with Kris Kristofferson on John Prine's ‘Hello In There’ from the 1971 Big Sur Folk Festival, and we also get two previously unreleased examples from Joan's less than expected collaborations in 1980 with members of the Grateful Dead. Lastly, from 1985, we get ‘Blues Improv’, which re-unites Joan with Odetta some twenty five years since they had sung together. "Big Earth Mother and Little Earth Mother" as Joan describes it in her notes, indicating the high esteem with which she had always held Odetta since the earliest years.
There are musical riches at every turn over these three discs, but thier effect is great heightened by the accompanying 32-page booklet where Joan has offered her thought about every track. they offer a portrait of a lovely person who had her own anxieties alongside her development as an artist. With these thoughts are a rich set of formal and informal photos that so often show her humour and her ready smile. It's a winning and richly rewarding package in more ways than one.