. was arguably Joan Baez's greatest artistic triumph, the commercial and aesthetic high point of her career and certainly of her decade at Vanguard Records. It marked the moment when her political and social concerns meshed most easily and effectively with her artistic goals and -- totally unexpectedly -- even yielded a pair of huge hit singles ("The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Let It Be") that helped propel the original double LP to gold record status. [In contrast to the 1994-issued CD release of Blessed Are..
., which suffered from flat sound and a fair amount of hiss, the expanded and remastered edition of the album finally lives up to the memory of hearing that album for the first time in the fall of 1971. Her soprano, crystalline in its clarity, floats out on the opening title track; even on oft-heard tracks such as "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," the playback here is startling in its closeness and richness; and on the more reflective and serene pieces such as "Lost, Lonely, and Wretched," the purity of the sound makes for a first listen that -- warm and rich as it is -- is almost chilling in its purity and beauty. The remastering has also brought out nuances in the playing -- by many of Nashville's finest musicians -- that was only suggested in prior releases of this album. It's now possible to appreciate just how well the stars all lined up for this body of music. Not only had every thread of her career and life in music, every motivating force behind her work, and the direction it had taken over the previous decade or more, even her own songwriting -- which yielded an astonishing nine originals here, every one a winner, even in the company of classics by Kris Kristofferson
, Mick Jagger
, and John Lennon
-- reached a level of mature expression at this moment, but her record label, which was losing her after this album, was willing to commit the resources to capture every song that she was prepared to cut, which amounted to more than even a double LP could hold (there was an accompanying 45 rpm single in the original package). The result was almost as monumental an achievement for Baez as Tapestry
was for Carole King
or Bridge Over Troubled Water
was for Simon & Garfunkel
, and on a far larger canvas; and now it finally sounds it on CD. In addition to superb annotation by Arthur Levy
, which explains how circumstances combined to bless this album, the original release's 22 songs have been augmented with a previously unissued live version of the soul classic "Warm and Tender Love," by Baez in a duet with Jeffrey Shurtleff
from Woodstock -- in almost any other context, that track alone, with her soaring soprano on display at its best, would be worth the price of admission; here it's just another jewel in a large collection, but no less valuable for it.