Album Reviews

Dick Fariña & Eric von Schmidt
Celebrations for a Grey Day
Singer Songwriter Project
Reflections in a Crystal Wind
Best of Mimi & Richard Fariña
Take Heart
Pack Up Your Sorrows: Best of the Vanguard Years
The Complete Vanguard Recordings
Vanguard Visionaries

Dick Fariña and Eric von Schmidt

Jazz Journal. July 1963, p. 31. By Graham Boatfield.

These two performers are new to me, and this session apparently got hatched up during a flying visit to London in January this year. Some of the younger generation of American folkish musicians and singers are impressive--not so much from their performance which is obviously derivative, but from their intrinsic enthusiasm for the good stuff.

Farina and Von Schmidt, according to their biographies, have roamed around so much that it would appear to be difficult for their roots to have struck anywhere. They have however, absorbed a good deal of native American folk culture, both Negro and European based, and sing the mixture with feeling and obvious enthusiasm. It is good to hear anyone produce such a driving group feeling, in spite of the striving for effect apparent in "Overseas Stomp" the Memphis Jug Band imitation. It is good also to find anyone delving into such a varied bag of good performer's material-- including Furry Lewis, the Carter Family, and other American "primitives".

In spite of their feeling, these singers did not take it too seriously, and they have wrapped up the package with some facetious sleeve notes. It is quite a bold attempt, but I hope that time will give us a chance to hear their own individual styles develop.

Broadside of Boston. September 15, 1965. By Dave Wilson.
Here is that mythological, often referred to but unavailable record, made two years ago when Eric Von Schmidt was off to England on a visit and Bob Dylan had only one record to his credit here in the the states. Blind Boy Grunt, for those who have yet to hear, is really bob Dylan. It's okay, though, he doesn't hardly show up at all.

The record as a whole is a disappointment, particularly the performances by Dick Farina. There is one exception, his dulcimer solo which is here entitled "Old Joe's Dulcimer," and which appears with slight alterations and a new title on his Vanguard album. Unfortunately, Dick's attempts at harmonizing with Eric often detract from the cut.

Richard does contribute a chilling and unusual up-to-date version of the riddle song.

Eric, on the other hand, is in fairly fine form. He especially shines on the ballad, "Lonzo N' Howard," and on two blues, "You Can Always Tell" and "Stick With Me Baby."

Ethan Signer, familiar to old faithfuls of the Charles River Valley Boys as their fiddler in the good old days, is competent in his accompaniment, but nowhere outstanding.

It is, as I said above, not a very good record, but I wouldn't part with it for love or money.

Celebrations for a Grey Day

Broadside of Boston. April 28, 1965. By Ed Freeman.

There is not much that can be said in the way of an objective evaluation of the music on this record, except that it is very, very beautiful. Before this overwhelming characteristic - beauty - all else pales. It is no longer so important that Richard Farina plays dulcimer as fantastically well as he does; it is no longer important that between the two of them they sing so well. These are merely elements that go into making up the whole, and one would have to be a rather cruel and calculating analyst to get hung up on the individual elements when the whole that they comprise is so much more important. So I can only reiterate the general evaluation: it is very beautiful.

As far as a description is concerned, the music is almost impossible to describe. "Folk" would be a very ill-fitting word in this case; it is not folk music, really. It is a flexible combination of two voices, a dulcimer, and a guitar; the music is the product of the people making it, both in the sense that it was largely written and arranged by Richard Farina and in the sense that it is an emanation from the hearts of the people who are performing it.

Maybe this review is incomplete because I have not talked about how fine the poetry is or how on band 17, side 2, Mimi hits a sour note, or how the A&R on band 65, side 7, is a little splotchy towards the twenty-seventh verse. Maybe all that is important. I suppose it is. But it is much more important that once you know all about that, you forget about it and go out and buy the record and sit back and listen to it as a whole. If you can hear what they are saying, I think you will be a little richer for it.

Folkin' Around. May 21, 1965, vol. 1, no. 3, p. 3.

The second of the major albums of the year [the first was Bringing It All Back Home]. These two Boston-area performers are the only "folk" composers and innovators who can possibly be classed with Dylan. This album gives a full sample of their work, ranging from the subtly-woven complexity of their instrumentals to the mind-croggling hallucinations of their rock&roll. If only because of the excellent backup combo, I prefer their r&r to that on Dylan's album.

New York Times. August 29, 1965, p. X18. By Robert Shelton.

A new duo that caused a storm at the recent Newport Folk Festival, Mimi and Richard Fariña, makes its debut on Celebrations for a Grey Day. Mimi's voice may have a familiar ring because she is the younger sister of Joan Baez. The couple's chief innovations lie in two directions, the use of dulcimer and guitar to give an American-based Indian raga sound, and the subtle use of "folk rock" music, with electric guitar, piano and bass backing. The Fariñas have made an important debut disk--we can expect to hear a lot more about this talented couple.

HiFi/Stereo Review. August 1965, p. 98-99. By Joe Goldberg.

Performance: Varies
Recording: Good
Stereo Quality: Good

Richard Fariña is a serious writer, and his wife Mimi is the younger sister of folk singer Joan Baez. This is their first recording as a folk act. Since there is some enjoyable music to be found on their disc, I suggest that you play it immediately without being put off by Mr. Fariña's liner notes, which are probably the most pretentious I have ever read.

Seven of the thirteen tracks are instrumental. Although most of these, especially the title track, are very good, there is only so much that can be done with dulcimer and guitar, and it doesn't take seven tracks to exhaust the possibilities.

Two of the vocals--"One-Way Ticket" and "Reno, Nevada"--are near rock-and-roll, and were recorded with the first-rate support of guitarist Bruce Danghorne [sic], pianist Charles Small, and bassist Russ Savakus. On these, as on the others, Mr. Fariña's unimpressive voice seems under-recorded. His wife sings with a sweet, pure voice, without the excessive vibrato that sometimes mars her sister's work, and she is a brilliant folk guitarist. I would like to hear her on her own disc, unencumbered by the windy nonsense that characterizes her husband's songs.

Seventeen. November 1965, p. 83.

Talents like these are never long hidden. Mimi and Richard Farina, who accompany themselves on dulcimer, guitar and autoharp, sings ballads as fresh as newsprint but more poetic; they make Vanguard's Celebrations for a Grey Day something unusual.

Broadside (New York). no. 65, December 15, 1965. By Edmund O. Ward.

Richard and Mimi Fariña are a husband and wife team originally from Boston and on this, their debut album, they show that they are one of the most versatile city groups to emerge recently. Richard, who is a writer with several plays and a published novel to his credit, is just about the best singer-songwriter on the contemporary folk scene. He can make a point without losing the smooth poetic flow of his writing and write a purely lyric song without resorting to Dylanesque confused and confusing imagery, or a poor imitation thereof. He is also the first topical songwriter I know of to include self-written instrumentals in his repertoire. The styles employed, and employed well, in this album are enough to give lesser beings pause. There is one song ("Pack Up Your Sorrows") which sounds like a Carter Family piece, two examples of "folk-rock" (or whatever you want to call it), a number of traditional-based tunes, and one attempt at a fusion of classical Indian and western forms ("V") which is the only real disappointment on the album. Mimi has a voice as pure as her sister Joan Baez' and her accompaniment is finely realized; in some cases ("Another Country" for instance) it is almost as important as the words. Some of the songs on this album are real masterpieces both lyrically and melodically (partially, I suspect, because of the Fariñas' reliance on traditional modal tunes), and this makes the album a real breath of fresh air.

Sing Out! Uncertain date.

CELEBRATIONS FOR A GREY DAY brings Richard Fariña with an outstanding dulcimer style and the solid support of his wife Mimi at the guitar and autoharp. There is a little of Richard's singing and less of Mimi's (can she really sing like her sister?) but this is only incidental to the consistently good instrumental music. The notes, by Mr. Fariña, smack of the contemporary Thomas Wolfe.

Miami News. Uncertain date.

Fancier and "curiouser" is another Vanguard disc, "Celebrations for a Grey Day". Artists are the Fariñas--Mimi, who is Mexican-Scottish, and Richard, who is Cuban-Irish. They play their original folk tunes on dulcimer, guitar and autoharp. We liked everything on this record except the mister's small, nasal voice. But no matter. They playing is worth the price of admission. Wit is paramount in the compositions, which are fancifully described by Richard Fariña on the jacket.

Billboard. 8-5-95, vol. 107, issue 31, p. 72. Review of the CD reissue. [no text available]

Singer Songwriter Project

Broadside of Boston. September 29, 1965, v.4 no.15. By Dave Wilson.

This latest in a series of "Project" albums to be released by Elektra is one of which assessment is difficult, if it is to be assessed as a "Project." The simpler method, and, indeed, the one I intend to use, is to consider it as a showcase for four young performers who happen to write most of their own material.

In that light, side one is not too impressive. Dick Farina and Pat Sky each sing three of their own songs. Dick does sing "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream," which is a song worth having on a record, but while he sings much better on this record than on the English one I reviewed last issue, his performance is not so exciting when he is not accompanied by Mimi. Pat Sky's performances include "Many A Mile," which is also on his Vanguard release. My major objection is that Sky and Farina and their songs are available elsewhere. They are not in need of showcasing.

Side two is a different story. Bruce Murdoch has the biggest share, with four songs, not one of which strikes me as anything to write home about. His images are pleasant, but seldom striking. One of his images has lodged in my mind due to its absurdity: "Your friendship like a cloak is the only thing I wear." If Murdoch is the great songwriter he is being touted as, it doesn't show here.

The real bright light on this album is Dave Cohen, who is now performing under the name of David Blue. Dave sings three songs, the first of which, "I Like to Sleep Late in the Morning," has become a favorite of many singers and listeners. The secret of his capability, I think, lies in his willingness not to try and say everything at once. Each of his songs has a simple, yet basic, idea, and the verses all orbit around it in a natural manner. His singing on this record is strong, and yet still easy, making his performance a comfortable and pleasing listening experience.

Chicago Tribune. October 10, 1965. By Thomas Willis.

Memories of Woody Guthrie sent us to Patrick Sky's "Talking Socialized Anti-Undertaker Blues." Mr. Sky struck us as the real thing, an open-faced open-voiced country man who doesn't put you off. Turns out he is a Louisiana Indian, part Cherokee, part Creek. By contrast, the other protests sound self-conscious.

Broadside (New York). no. 63, October 16, 1965. By Edmund O. Ward.

Elektra ought to get a medal for this one. They have shown that topical songwriters do not have to resort to comparing LBJ to Hitler (however tempting it might be), or setting liberal editorials to music word-for-word, or writing obscure pseudodylan "Rorschach tests" in order to write effective songs. The four writers represented her are Richard Fariña, Pat Sky, Bruce Murdoch, and Dave Cohen (now David Blue), and they are aobut as different as they could possibly be in spite of a seeming similiary. Richard Fariña contributes three songs ("House Un-American Activity Dream", "Birmingham Sunday", and "Bold Marauder") which are among his best topical (as opposed to personal statement) songs. The drone of the dulcimer in "Bold Marauder" has an emotional wallop to it that is hard to describe. The "Dream" compares favorably with Dylan's best and is in the same "folk-rock" style. (I wonder how long it will be until the r&r boys pick up Fariña as they have done with Dylan?)....Liner notes by Josh Dunson and Richard Fariña are informative and I liked especially Fariña's point about much of the present topical song flood being influenced by Dylan - - - - Thomas!

Reflections in a Crystal Wind

Hoot! May 1966, p. 51. By Chuck Klein.

Call it a new episode in the musical-poetic story of Dick and Mimi Farina, this album is a continuation of some of the principles laid down in "Celebrations For A Grey Day."

There is no one single high spot on the recording, each part of it can well stand on its own. Bold Marauder is, for lack of a better term, a song of protest. It is against the idea that any man or group of men has the right to run rampant over the world. It is against those who "find their pleasures in the torment of violated blood." Raven Girl, on the other hand, conjures up images of power and darkness, of whisperings and intimations. The lyrics, music and vocalization are no less than beautiful.

The album has on it a host of some of the finest assisting musicians around: Bruce Langhorne on guitar and tambourine, John Hammond on harp, Charles Small on piano and celesta, Alvin Rogers on drums, and those two omnipresent bass players, Felix Pappalardi and Russ Savakus. These men lend a well-orchestrated musical flavor to the already fine compositions.

If any one prase of the album would seem to stand out above all others, it would be the instrumentals. The drone-quality of the dulcimer lends a mystic Eastern flavor to this contemporary writing. Allen's Interlude is a fine example of this.

The instrumental Miles, on the other hand, shows a different side of the Farinas. Lilting and light, reminiscent of the tinkling of bells, it is one of the most purely beautiful sounds ever heard in folk music.

Farina is a poet and musician with great potential. It hasn't all been said yet, but as much as can possibly be put into one record has been done. The potential has been tapped, but it is far from drained. This album is an experience, a treat and a joy. It should be heard. It should be listened to.

HiFi/Stereo Review. May 1966, p. 98. By Morgan Ames.

Performance: Dreary
Recording: Poor
Stereo Quality: Fair

Mimi and Richard Fariña are the poor man's Ian and Sylvia. Mrs. Fariña (Joan Baez' sister) sings a little better than her husband, but both have bodiless, amateurish voices, dueting in almost unrelieved fourths and fifths. Though they are backed by several skilled musicians on this disc, I find their own work incompetent and essentially seedy.

The songs, all written by Richard Fariña, are soggy with imagery and as incoherent as the liner notes in which he explains their significance. Fariña once submitted six of his songs to a well known jazz pianist-singer, who rejected them on the grounds that "they weren't real." I find this a most accurate evaluation.

One song, however, is relatively clear. It concerns a day in the life of a drug addict. Several folkers have taken it upon themselves to entertain us with ditties about the world of narcotics. Let's look closely at this song. Its title is Mainline Prosperity Blues. "Mainline" is a verb describing the drug addict's method of injecting heroin or morphine into the bloodstream by way of a vein in the arm. The song includes these lines: "Good mornin', teaspoon." (Using the heroin mixture, water, and a piece of cotton, the addict cooks up his fix in a teaspoon.) "Teaspoon, give me back my brain." (The addict needs a fix to restore his brand of sanity.) "Good mornin', sweet companion, pardon me if I've forgotten your name." (Apparently the addict is now mellow from a fix.) "Population's explodin', gonna get you in a wild stampede; well, companion, you'll forgive me if I seem unwillin' to succeed." (The narcotic high has made him passive.) "Now efficiency the byword, everybody get to work on time; there ain't no unemployment, I believe I'm gonna lose my mind; they're listed on the census, but I think I'm gonna just resign." (Reflections on just giving up.) "I'm only just a pillow, honey, and I belong in bed; I need a little soothin', somethin' soothin' kinda mellow for my head; they say I could be productive but I'll just recline right here instead." (The addict, fixed, and feeling soft as a pillow, gives reasons why there's no point in doing anything but staying high.)

This record, I believe, is aimed at the teen-age market.

Sing Out! Aug/Sep 1966, p. 57, 59. By Jay Smith.

In their second album the west coast school teachers divide themselves between the musical sensitivity that distinguished their first, and folk-rock. The Farinas' versatility and musicianship is displayed beautifully in "Dopico," a visit with Afro-Indian rhythms and the dulcimer-guitar duets "Chrystanthemem" and "Miles." "A Swallow Song" is another fine track. It is "for Joanie, who coaxed the creatures from the Big Sur wind, and eased their trembling wings." Picture the Bixby Canyon Bridge as a backdrop, in the foreground Joanie with her swallow and Mrs. Burton with sandpiper. The rest of the record is pretty fair Bob Dylan imitation except Dylan's rhymes are funnier.

Broadside (New York). no. 68, March 1966. By Edmund O. Ward.

This is the kind of album I would like to write about groove by groove. It contains some of the best music I've ever heard and it has some songs with masterful lyrics. It also has some obvious defects. The major defect is an oversupply of sidemen. They tend to obscure the words on some cuts and John Hammond's harmonica in particular intrudes at the wrong times. The songs themselves are mostly of the same high quality as those on the Farinas' previous album CELEBRATIONS FOR A GREY DAY. One song, "Children of Darkness" is a masterpiece, the like of which has not been seen in today's contemporary folk writing. It is sensitively sung and Charles Small's celesta seems to cast a magic web over the whole composition. "Hard Loving Loser" is a guy we have all heard about and would kind of like to be to a certain degree. There are two repeats from the SINGER-SONGWRITER PROJECT on Elektra -- "Bold Marauder" and "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream" -- both hurt by the preponderance of sidemen, both fine songs. As on their last album, the only real failure is a pseudo-raga of a kind only Sandy Bull can do well. All in all, this is a worthy follow-up to this team's recording debut of a few months ago.

Time. Uncertain date.

Bitter protest by Joan Baez' sister and late brother-in-law, who were making quite a name for themselves among fans of this sort of thing before Richard was killed in a motorcycle crash last May. Backed by an electronic wonderland (piano, guitar, bass, plus drums, harmonica, dulcimer, celesta), and using a smoky, Hoagy Carmichael beat, they sing the House UnAmerican Blues Activity Dream and the Sell-Out Agitation Waltz. Sample lyrics:Society is never geared / To people who wear a beard.

Utne Reader. Jul/Aug 1995, issue 70, p. 113. [no text available]

The Daily Page. Saturday, April 11, 2009. By Bob Koch.

More than 40 years since his untimely death, writer and musician Richard Farina's life seems almost like a folk tale itself -- he did some wild roving in his short time on the planet. The story has already been told far better than I could ever summarize it in David Hajdu's excellent book Positively Fourth Street, recounting Farina's travels through the early '60s literary and folk scenes and his intersection with Bob Dylan and the Baez sisters, of whom Mimi became his wife and musical partner.

Dylan, of course, went on to become a pop culture legend and elder statesman. Farina died in a motorcycle accident on his way to a book signing event in 1966, just days after the release of his first novel and only a few months after the release of the couple's second album, Reflections in a Crystal Wind. Judging by the music and writing he left behind, Farina may have ended up just as famous a figure as Dylan had he lived.

While Dylan was transitioning to full-on rock in early 1965, the Farinas were experimenting with fleshing out a more traditional folk sound. A small combo joined Richard and Mimi for on a few songs on their debut, and the extra players were present on nearly all of Reflections. Even with electric instruments and drums, their sound remains grounded in folk rather than rock, largely due to Richard's completely unique approach to playing the dulcimer.

The sound reminds me much more of late '60s British folk rock bands such as Fairport Convention or Pentangle than any of the Farina's American folk or rock contemporaries. This is probably not coincidental in Fairport's case, as they've covered some Farina songs over the years. There's a definite Eastern influence at times in the the music as well, especially evident on instrumentals.

Farina's literary side shows clearly, though lyrically he is still usually fairly direct on "Reflections," particularly on the grim "Bold Marauder," though who will be doing the marauding is left to the listener to interpret. Some sarcastic humor lightens more protest-oriented songs like "Sell-Out Agitation Waltz" and "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream." The eclectic range of moods and styles helps Reflections in a Crystal Wind sound fresh, and it's well-worth checking out for anyone interested in delving deeper into the '60s folk scene.


Go Magazine. Dec. 20, 1968, p. 9. [no text available]

Billboard. Dec. 21, 1968.

Richard Farina's premature death in a motorcycle accident aborted the growing audience and stature that he and his wife Mimi were steadily gaining with their persuasive singing and playing. Highlights here are the traditional sounding rouser "Joy 'Round My Brain" and "Dopico; Celebration for a Grey Day." An added bonua is the voice of Joan Baez, Mimi's sister, on two pretty cuts.

Rolling Stone. Feb. 15, 1969, p. 29. By Gary von Tersch.

This is a sad album. A final kind of album. It is all the bits and tag-ends of material either done by the late Richard Farina or produced by him. Needless to say it appears spotty and disconnected at intervals compared to his earlier two albums--but those were three years ago and it is good to hear more from him.

"The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood" hauntingly opens the album. This is an early Farina song. It features Mimi's excellent voice and an orchestra conducted by Peter Schickele. It is a slow, droning piece employing inventive imagery and is Yeatsian in effect: "The mare and stallion, light and dark/have thunder in their sounds.../ but men have come to plow the tides/the old lies on the ground/I hear their fires in the fields/they drive the stallion stallion down..."

"Jou Round My Brain" was released as a single a few years back and is re-issued here--it is a happy song that sounds like its title. It is a little weak lyrically but suspended verve and wry cynicism make up for it. Incidentally, catch John Hammond's mouth-harp on this cut in particular. He was a vital part, along with Russ Savakus, Charles Small and Bruce Langhorne, of that "full" Farina sound.

"Lemonade Lady" is a bluesy, surrealistic effort that opens like a field-chant and then continues with Richard's vocal in the forefront and Mimi wailing behind. "Downtown" and "Dopico/Celebration for a Grey Day" are the only two instrumentals on the album. They serve to make one aware of how little Farina's superb dulcimer playing is present here. "Downtown" is very diminutive in size, but huge in impact. "Dopico/Celebration," however, is fully stated (even including the Frere Jacques/ Darling Corey closing)--it is the quiet truth of life. This latter piece is one of two included recorded at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965--yet it has all the dynamics of the studio version.

"Almond Joy" is like "Lemonade Lady" in a lot of ways--Richard solos here with bass, piano, guitar accompaniment and sings of communication in an off-the-cuff fashion--"You're a hop-headed mother . . . but I don't love no other . . . you're a whole Almond Joy . . . doing, baby, what did you say? . . . "

"Blood Red Roses" is an unaccompanied chant with Richard and Mimi both singing and is probably the weakest piece on the album, but only because we have no viable context for it. The second cut "Morgan the Pirate" is a long Mimi vocal with an ensemble group that never quite gets together. Farina didn't produce this one, it is too jumbled. The lyrics also are a change of pace. They are much more introspective and Dylanesque in tone. If, indeed, it was the last song he wrote it was predictive: "Well so long mother, let me say it's been a ball/and as long as you're still (pining) I resign/you have been an inspiration to your image's creation/so I think I'll step outside and pass the time--there's no time for undoing the one or two hard feelings left behind . . . "

Two songs sung by Joan Baez, produced by Richard, are included also. There must be more of these in the can. "Swallow Song" was dedicated "to Joanie" on their second album and is sung here with a baroque-sounding instrumental group. Again the poetry of the verses overpowers one--Farina was a master of the simply understated yet elegant line, much like Lorca especially here: "And will the breezes blow the petals from your hand/and will some loving ease your pain/and will this silence drive confusion from your soul/and will the swallows come again? . . ."

The other song by Joan is entitled "All the World Has Gone By" and is a sorrowful, melodic yet intense effort--it strikes me as a sequel to Farina's earlier "Children of Darkness" in the "Reflections" album. There is the same mood, the half-falling, half-rising effect. Again the Lorca-like poetry dominates: "For children are the choirs of starlight/and petals are names by your side/and dreams are the murmurs of yesterday's rose/all the world has gone by . . ."

The album closes fittingly with a fuller, tighter version of "Pack Up Your Sorrows"-- perhaps Farina's most well-known piece. What can you say about this one? The same thing might be said about the album as a whole: It's like the tiny sounds at the end of a xylophone, like circles of Spanish guitars in the night.

American Record Guide. July 1969. [no text available]

American Record Guide. February, 1970. [no text available]

The Best of Mimi & Richard Fariña

Records and Recording. May 1972, p. 104, 106. By James Asman.

The long experience that Richard Farina possesses in singing and presenting American folk music, and in writing and performing his own original brand of neo- folk music, comes to fruition in this highly professional album of Farina's own protest songs. His wife Mimi is predominant with nasal harmonies which echo the old chanting of the Carter Family and obviously understands and appreciates Richard's musical sentiments. She is also responsible for two instrumental ride-outs, Miles and Dog blue. Pauline Marden duets with Richard on Pack up your sorrows and both the singing and the carefully contrived but ethnic sounding accompaniment add up to an attractive, varied and interesting double-album of contemporary neo-folk protest music and song.
Gramophone. June 1972, p. 112. By Tony Russell. Capsule review.

...has some of the pair's brisk and pleasant guitar-dulcimer-autoharp instrumentals like Dopico, Chrysanthemum and so forth, as well as the near-standard Pack Up Your Sorrows. The great gaiety of these performances is a sufficient and appropriate tribute to the late Richard Fariña.

Take Heart

The Phoenix. September 14, 1971. By Stephen Davis.

Mimi Farina is the sister of Joan Baez and the widow of Richard Farina, a man of many talents, one of the least of which was composing songs that he and his wife would perform mostly in monotone (for an extended discussion of another side of Mr. Farina, see B. Dylan's "Positively 4th Street"). Anyway, Mimi has hooked up with a new partner, songwriter Tom Jans, and the result is TAKE HEART (A&M), a kind of exciting, often lovely album whose lyrics focus mainly on the theme of loneliness. The two seem to share a twin musical sensibility; the songs they write - like Mimi's "Charlotte" and Tom Jans' "Carolina" are similar while being contained in the bounds of a very fresh style of their own. Their approach is low-key and autobiographical, and in their words one can recognize the faces of familiar ghosts. Like Dave Van Ronk, Mimi has abandoned folk music for her own milieu, and it's obvious she's a little more comfortable. Some fine playing all over this one, especially the ubiquitous Pete Drake on pedal steel and James Taylor's excellent studio bassist, Leland Sklar.

Chicago Tribune. Sep 26 1971, p. E4.

Yes, take heart. Mimi, whom folk followers will recall is Joan Baez's little sister and who was married to Richard Farina until his death, has teamed up with Californian Jans for a beautiful album. Both Mimi and Tom write, sing and play guitar--well. All of the material is original except for Buck Owens' "The Great White Horse," and all of it good. There are echoes of Richard Farina's music at times in the lyrics and accompaniment, reflections in the crystal wind that blows thru most of the songs. If there's a message, "Madman" sums it up:
Oh listen to the wind, my friend
It'll bend your heart, not break it.
Time is nowhere near the end
And there's plenty of room for all of us
To make it.

Rolling Stone. no. 92, Sep 30 1971, p. 44. By George Kimball.

[citation unknown]. 1971. By Gary von Tersch.
Go to the Tom Jans Website for article.

Popular Music. Fall 1972, p. 61. [no text available]

Stereo Review. January, 1972, p. 107. [no text available]

Village Voice. January 12, 1972. By Robert Christgau.

I love Mimi Farina's voice--that muted burr really catches me short sometimes--but this record seems almost decadent to me. I don't go in for necrology, but the difference between Richard Farina, a sharp-witted, spirited artist whether he was composing, singing, or playing, and Tom Jans, who is often pretty and always insipid, is as telling an indictment of the new acoustic music as I can offer.

High Fidelity. January 1972, p. 122. By Morgan Ames.

Mimi Farina has had a well-publicized hard time. She is Joan Baez' sister. As if that weren't enough, she was married to Richard Farina who was killed in a motorcycle accident after writing a book which has recently been made into a movie. Also, she has long sought a career as a singer. Surely finding Tom Jans has eased her personal life. Now comes this album on which both sing, play guitar, and contribute to the writing. It has a nice gentle feeling: it has nice moments. But it is too long, too slow, too monotonous. Farina and Jans sing well together, but their energy level is low and somehow internalized, pointing inward instead of out. I wish I could say more.

Audio. March 1972, p. 80-81. By Sherwood L. Weingarten.

TAKE HEART joins singer-songwriter-guitarist and sister of Joan Baez, Mimi Farina, with Tom Jans for an album of almost all original material in the folk-rock genre. There's pleasant harmony and a good soft now-sound not far removed from that of The Carpenters. Mimi penned four of the 10 tracks herself; Jans did two, and three were written in collaboration by the pair (including the one instrumental, "After the Sugar Harvest"). Highlights are a poignant solo by Miss Farina, "Charlotte," and "Letter to Jesus," replete with gospel aura.


Folk Roots. [no citation or text available]

Edmonton Journal [no citation or text available]

Washington Post. N-17, February 21, 1986. [no text available]

Pack Up Your Sorrows: Best of the Vanguard Years

Free Folk. By Graham Hood.

As a dulcimer player I had often read of Richard's influential playing and had been on the lookout for albums by him for many years without success. The issue of this compilation album has at last enabled me to see what all the fuss was about. Richard was an attractive figure to American youth; of mixed Irish/Cuban parentage, he was rumoured either (depending on the article) to have either fought with, ran guns for, or just "been involved with" the IRA in his late teens. Perhaps he just knew a few rebel songs...

He was known as a witty journalist and was initially married to folk singer Carolyn Hester, picking up on the talents of a young Bob Dylan to the extent that Dylan got his first ever session credit playing harmonica on Carolyn's 1961 album. He later moved to Europe with her, but she returned to the US without him, Richard remaining in London to record an album with Eric Von Schmidt on which Dylan also played, under the pseudonym of Blind Boy Grunt.

Richard met, and later married, Mimi Baez, younger sister of Joan, and the couple returned to the USA, earning a living from Richard's journalism and writing songs together on guitar and dulcimer. They gradually started to gig at weekends and recorded their first album in the spring of 1965, "Celebrations For A Grey Day". They were booked to play at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival (the one at which Dylan "went electric") and made a great impression. To quote the dulcimer maker Joellen Lapidus: "Anyone in 1965 who listened to Richard and Mimi Farina in the rain and heard the dulcimer and that Arabic drum and the celeste and Bruce Langthorne on guitar, saw them dancing on stage and the audience not moving in spite of the rain, heard and felt the birth of contemporary American dulcimer playing".

They released another album in 1965, "Reflections In A Crystal Wind", but Richard's death in a motorcycle accident on the last day of April 1966 cut short their promise. Ironically he was on his way to a party to celebrate the launch of his long-awaited first novel, "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me". The CD has 22 tracks drawn from the two albums above plus some un-issued dulcimer instrumental. Richard's skill on dulcimer exceeded even my high expectations, and the several instrumentals here are among the album's highlights, ranging from the traditionally styled "Dandelion River Run", simply backed by Mimi's guitar, through the rather pretentiously titled "Tommy Makem Fantasy" (aka "The Little Beggarman") which demonstrates Mimi's ability on autoharp, and the excellent "Dopico", a modal jam with guitar and prominent percussion (the Arab drum?). The songs are great too. "Pack Up Your Sorrows" was a much covered song at the time, but he is much more adventurous on material like "Another Country", which I would guess is about the deterioration of his relationship with Carolyn Hester. Farina's wit is displayed in "Hard Loving Loser" and "House un-American Blues Activity Dream", and his absorption of folk material in the title track of the second album, which is very much in the style of the Carter Family, and in "The Falcon", a clever anti-war rewrite of "The Cuckoo", and a fine version of the shanty "Blood Red Roses".

The Farinas were a hugely talented (and as the sleeve photos show, a very handsome) couple, and it is truly tragic that their career was such a short one. This is one of the most inspiring albums I have heard in a long time, and my only regret is that I did not discover Richard and Mimi's music sooner. I cannot recommend this album highly enough.

Salon. October 13, 1999. By David Bowman.
Mimi and Richard Fariña's Pack Up Your Sorrows: Best of the Vanguard Years contains some of the strongest music of the 1960s, songs as adventurous and one-of-a-kind as the man who wrote them. Back then, Richard was a songwriter as well as both a novelist and former gunrunner/revolutionary. Mimi was his child bride, kid sister of the Queen Jane of American folk music, Joan Baez.

Richard was born in 1936 to an Irish mother and Cuban father. As a teen, he smuggled rifles for the IRA, then moved to Cuba and fought alongside Fidel Castro. By 1959, he was part of the Greenwich Village coffeehouse scene. He also went to Cornell University upstate in Ithaca, where he befriended misfit student Thomas Pynchon. Fariña then married Carolyn Hester, a folk singer. In Eric Von Schmidt's memoir of his folkie days, Baby Let Me Follow You Down, Hester recalls an idyll with Fariña on Martha's Vineyard during the summer of '61: "He was afraid the English were going to avenge themselves [on him] because he'd blown up a torpedo boat in Ireland. He was always carrying a .38 around. He thought the Protestants were going to bump him off. I couldn't believe it."

The next year they drifted to Paris, where Fariña fell in love with Mimi Baez, a lovely piece of 15-year-old jailbait. Fariña would eventually divorce his wife. Von Schmidt says Richard and Mimi then had a "secret" marriage ceremony. Other accounts name Pynchon best man. (Neither item cancels out the other.) What is known is that the two Fariñas began singing as a duo and released two spectacular folk records, Celebrations for a Grey Day (1965) and Reflections in a Crystal Wind (1966). "Folk" music usually refers to limp white folks' music, but the Fariñas' music was not tedious strum-strum-strumming like famous sister Joan. The Fariñas played weird Appalachian dulcimer music as well as Dylanesque electric folk-rock. Fariña certainly followed in Dylan's electric footsteps — he even used Dylan guitarist Bruce Bringing It All Back Home Langhorne. As a songwriter, however, Fariña was not sitting in anyone's back seat.

The Vanguard collection contains some of his best songs, such as "Bold Marauder" — a harrowing account of the malevolent "white destroyer" Klan. Be warned, however, that the record starts tame. Have patience. The songs get progressively more lyrical, electrical and sophisticated — climaxing with "Morgan the Pirate," Fariña's biting take on Dylan during the days when he was an amphetamine prick. (That's my term. The sanguine liner notes from the original '60s album sleeve says the song is Fariña waving "farewell" to Dylan.)

So what happened to Richard Fariña? He died in California. On May 1, 1966, Fariña crashed his motorcycle on the way to the autograph party for his first novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me at the Discover Bookshop in San Francisco. A posthumous album called Memories was released a little later. Although The Vanguard Years contains two cuts from this album, a handful are missing (including a live version of "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream" recorded during a rainstorm at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, a day before Dylan went famously electric).

As for Fariña's connection with Pynchon, the latter dedicated Gravity's Rainbow to his dead friend. Reportedly a double biography of Fariña and Dylan is in the works that documents a romance between Pynchon and Fariña's widow. As for Mimi herself, she's made several folk records over the past 30 years, but none is worth finding. Together, however, they had something that still reverberates, 33 years after his death.

David Bowman is the author of the novel "Bunny Modern" and the nonfiction book This Must Be the Place: The Adventures of the Talking Heads in the 20th Century.

Green Man. By Brendan Foreman.

New City Chicago. September 22, 1999. By Mitch Myers.

The Complete Vanguard Recordings

Rolling Stone. November 12, 2001. By David Sprague.

f2 Network. January 12, 2002. "Old Folks Come Home." By Bruce Eder.

It may have taken them a decade to get their act together but over the past year Vanguard Records (one of the legendary 1960s folk labels) has been systematically re-releasing its entire catalogue on large CD compilations. Instead of some so-called guru picking the eyes out of an artist's work and releasing a "Best of" compilation, Vanguard has opted for total re-releases. Recently released is a set of four CDs (on which there are seven old LPs), The Complete Vanguard Recordings of Canadian folk duo, Ian & Sylvia. The studio has been re-releasing early Joan Baez albums individually and now it has gone into the vaults and pulled together The Complete Vanguard Recordings of Mimi and Richard Farina. Of all the re-releases this is by far the most interesting.

[biographical summary omitted]

Some of the instrumental tracks on these albums, notably Dopico and Chrysanthemum on Reflections in a Crystal Wind and Dandelion River Run and Tommy Makem Fantasy on Celebrations are extraordinary. At first they sound like George Harrison's early experiments on sitar and then they come across like some glorious rustic music straight out of the Appalachian mountains. Somehow the interplay of Mimi's guitar playing (she was always recognised as a better guitarist than her sister) and Richard's dulcimer evoke back porches, whiskey stills and backwoods authenticity.

Farina wrote sharp and pointed lyrics. It is tempting to think he could well have developed into a worthy competitor to Dylan. Tracks such as the Sell-Out Agitation Waltz (a marvellous cascading, talking blues that savages the deadness and drabness of suburban America with vitriol worthy of Dylan at his best) and the House Un-American Blues Activity Dream (a driving folk blues that questions the values of the time and suggests that Cuba is a great alternative society) are classic 1960s protest songs. Equally impressive are songs such as Pack Up Your Sorrows which nod with respect at the great folk song-writing skills of Woody Guthrie.

If you want to understand the richness and artistry that lay behind the folk boom of the early 1960s then this is a fine demonstration by a duet who, through accidental death, have sadly slipped out of view.

Mother Jones. Mar/Apr 2002, vol. 27 no. 2, p. 81. [no text available]

Vanguard Visionaries

BlogCritics Magazine. August 24, 2007. By Bill Sherman.
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