First released in 1992, Play Me Backwards holds a very special place in the rich 50-year recording history of Joan Baez. The album’s sessions brought her back to Nashville for the first time since the series of four albums she had recorded in Music City between 1968 and 1971. Returning to Nashville’s familiar environment two decades later and collaborating with producers Wally Wilson and Kenny Greenberg proved to be a perfect fit. Joan reaffirmed her unique ability to identify and interpret successive generations of songwriters whose music had the ability to speak to her: Mary Chapin Carpenter (“Stones In the Road”), John Stewart (“Strange Rivers”), John Hiatt (“Through Your Hands”), the duo of Janis Ian and Buddy Mondlock (“Amsterdam”), and Ron Davies (“Steal Across the Border” and “The Dream Song,” co-written with Joan). Play Me Backwards also contains four songs that Joan co-wrote with her two producers (“Play Me Backwards,” “Isaac and Abraham,” “I’m With You,” and “Edge Of Glory,” one of the last occasions on which she contributed to an album as a songwriter.
Adding historic provenance to this reissue is a second disc containing previously unreleased demos of 10 songs which were contemplated by Joan and her producers, heard here for the first time. Some of the songwriters are not widely known, such as the late Mark Heard (“Rise From the Ruins,” “Lonely Moon”), John Hadley (“The Last Day”) or Gary Nicholson (“Trouble With the Truth”); and one writer is not known at all (“Medicine Wheel”). On the other hand, there are additional songs from Janis Ian (“We Endure”) and Ron Davies (“Dark Eyed Man,” originally recorded by Kevin Welch as “Dark Eyed Gal”); and one that Joan wrote with reenberg’s wife, the respected Christian artist Ashley Cleveland (“In My Day”). Fans will be immediately drawn to Joan’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Seven Curses” (his adaptation of the traditional Child ballad “The Maid Freed From the Gallows” aka “Anathea”), the only one of these songs previously recorded by Joan (on the live album Bowery Songs in 2005).
By all accounts, Play Me Backwards is said to be the album that began the renaissance of Joan Baez’s career that has continued through 2008’s Grammy-nominated Day After Tomorrow. Play Me Backwards is an album whose impact will continue to reverberate for decades to come.
Original release date: October 1992
Produced by: Wally Wilson and Kenny Greenberg
Album cover design by: Tom Dolan
Album cover art direction by: Mick Haggerty
Album cover photography by: Melanie Nissen
Additional musicians and vocalists: Greg Barnhill, Richard Bennett, Ashley Cleveland, Chad Cromwell, Jerry Douglas, Carl Gorodetzky, Kenny Greenberg, Vicki Hampton, Mike Lawler, Bob Mason, Edgar Meyer, Jonell Mosser, Steve Nathan, Cyndi Richardson, Tom Roady, Chris Rodriguez, Pam Sixfin, James Stroud, Marcos Suzano, Willie Weeks, Kristen Wilkenson, Wally Wilson, Glen Worf
Issued on cassette tape: Virgin Records 86458-4
Issued on CD: Virgin Records 86458-2
Re-issued in 1996 on CD: Guardian Records 54615