April 2009

Sharon Isbin, Joan Baez, Mark O’Connor - Journey to the New World
Sony Classical 88697
Format: CD
Released: 2009

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

This CD features the combined talents of one of the greatest contemporary guitarists, the grand dame of folksingers, celebrating her 50th year of performance, and the wizardry of crossover music’s greatest fiddle player-composer. These are the only three performers, yet the album is so top heavy with talent that you might think it would collapse under that weight. Instead, the combined super artistry is heard in one of the most beguiling, supple and charming musical journeys of the year.

The disc begins with four Renaissance lute duets in which Sharon Isbin plays both parts (on the guitar), then moves to two familiar English folksongs -- "The Drunken Sailor" and "The Mountain Thyme." After a transition piece,"Andecy" by Andrew York, Joan Baez joins Isbin for a haunting version of "Wayfaring Stranger." The great folksinger is then given tribute in a suite for guitar called simply enough "The Joan Baez Suite." It was written by John Duarte for Isbin and is a showcase of songs made popular by the young Baez. There are some fascinating juxtapositions, such as the joining of a Schubert song about dead flowers with Pete Seeger’s "Where Have All The Flowers Gone," and the fascinating contrapuntal combination of "Dido’s Lament" by Purcell with the folk tune "The Unquiet Grave." After the suite, Baez comes back for "Go ‘Way From My Window," and then the album closes with Mark O’Connor’s exuberant "Strings and Threads Suite," arranged for violin and guitar.

The recorded sound is a perfect fit to the performances -- close up, intimate, and detailed. This kind of CD could make crossover music a respected genre.