Each week, we dig in the crates to tell you about a “lost” or classic album we think you should hear. This week’s covers Sibylle Baier’s never-released 1970s album, Colour Green.
The recent boom of vinyl reissue labels has given rise to a never-ending amount of previously undiscoverable albums. But for every cult phenom likeSugarman,Harry Nilsson, &the “Band Called Death”who couldn’t find an audience until their (sometimes posthumous) documentaries started trending on Netflix, there are innumerable musicians whose albums never saw the light of day, who cut perfect records and moved on, living out their entire lives in relative obscurity.
Take Vashti Bunyan, for instance, who traveled to New York City in 1963 and, after discovering Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album, returned home to London inspired to pursue a music career of her own. There she was “discovered” by the Rolling Stones’ manager, who convinced her to record her own version of an unreleased Stones single, “Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind,” a surprisingly gigantic affair with delayed drums, horns, and an impressive, but perhaps unnecessary amount of accompaniment. A few years later when it came time to record her first LP, Bunyan found production help from Simon Nicol & Dave Swarbrick of the English rock band Fairport Convention and string arrangements conducted by Robert Kirby, who at the time was also working with the similarly unknown folk legend Nick Drake. Those recordings became her beautiful, jaw-dropping debut titledJust Another Diamond Day released in 1970. The title track is a true folk gem that could put to shame anything Bob Dylan ever dreamed of, and the album as a whole is the honest epitome of folk music. Layers of flutes, mandolins, and other acoustic instrumentation swirl amongst Bunyan’s airy vocals. It’s everything you could want out of a folk record.
Nevertheless, the album was a total flop, and in heartbroken discouragement she gave up on music in order to focus on raising her three children. Rumour has it that she forgot about her musical past entirely, while her kids snuck away with her album to listen in secret. But over the decades and entirely unbeknownst to her, Bunyan’s songs were acquiring an extreme cult following, with copies of the original UK Diamond Day pressing selling for thousands of dollars. Only once has someone decided to part with theirprecious original copy on Discogs, and it sold for $1,134.45. In 2005, Kieran Hebden of Four Tet (Vinyl Me, Please album of the month for September, 2015) introduced her to the psychedelic electronic band ‘Animal Collective’ while they were on tour in Europe, who went on to release an EP with Bunyan titledProspect Hummer as a companion to their groundbreakingSung Tongs album. Contemporary songwriters such as Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, and Andy Cabic (of Vetiver) have since cited Bunyan as an influence, and she’s gone on to release two LPs and one compilation of singles & demos. These days, reissues of Diamond Day are relatively easy to come by at any record store, as are various pressings of the new albums she’s made since her “rediscovery.” That original album, however, remains out of reach for most listeners, either far too rare to come by, or far too expensive for even the most avid fans and collectors.
Which brings us to Sibylle Baier, whose one-and-only album almost never came into existence. She was only 16 when her friend Claudine dragged her out of her bedroom and convinced her to take a road trip across the Swiss Alps. Returning home feeling inspired and grateful, she wrote the very first song of her life, ‘Remember the Day,’ to commemorate the trip. Listening to that one song alone will make you wonder how a 16-year-old girl could sing like a grown and traveled woman, but over the next three years (from 1970-73) she recorded her songs at home in Germany, quietly, on a reel-to-reel tape deck for absolutely no one to hear. That is until thirty years later when her son Robby discovered them and burned them to CDs to pass around to friends and family. One of those friends turned out to be J. Mascis ofDinosaur Jr., who then shared the album with his friend at the Orange Twin record label. Rather than fill the songs out with strings, vocal harmonies, and other accompaniments, Orange Twin reissued the album exactly as it was, recorded quietly, beautifully, at home. The comparison to Vashti Bunyan is made strictly in terms of story, as their musical styles couldn’t be further apart. While Bunyan’s “angel voice” rises astronomically high, sometimes almost operatic sounding, Baier’s sits much lower in register, with her vocal melodies glued to her guitar in a way that might be closer compared to Elliott Smith’s mathematical precision, or Leonard Cohen’s melancholic poeticisms. Baier’s songs, though, are simple, untouchable, and in truth incomparable. In the album opener “Tonight,” she sings about all that the night entails upon returning home from work. “We had change of the moon” she sings along with a somber, fingerpicked guitar. “What’s that sorrow you bear? He gently took my arm. He listened to my tears till dawn.”
“I’m dreaming of off and away” she sings in the third track, “I Lost Something in the Hills.” She speaks to the wanderlust in all of us, leaning against the window in the home she grew up in and dreaming of all else that exists beyond its plain, familiar glass. “I know farther west, these hills exist,” and they “lead her to wherever she wants them to.”
According to the Sibylle Baier website five or more years ago, her son was working with her to finish and release a second album. New songs, though, have yet to come to light, and since then the website has been taken down. Who knows where those songs are, if they will ever be released, or what they might sound like?
As of October, 2015, there is only one listing available on Discogs forthe first 2006 pressing, which is selling at $60. The album is rarer to come across as a whole, but the 2010 reissues are still relatively cheap, averaging around $15, and mostly without a download card or any liner notes, just black vinyl in a plain jacket. A record store owner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin says that whenever he gets the opportunity he orders five, 10, as many copies of ‘Colour Green’ as possible, and they’re all sold before he even gets them into the bins. This unusually high demand led me straight to the label, Orange Twin, whom I contacted years ago asking how many copies were left. Luckily, they wrote back to say they had exactly two in stock. What might make the record even more desirable is how little is known about Sibylle Baier. How did a 16-year-old German girl learn to write such a great album of songs in flawless English, set to excellent finger-picking? Why hasn’t any more music surfaced, as promised? We’re left dreaming of a woman who’s seemed not only to vanish from the face of the earth, but hardly even touched down on it to begin with. Instead she exists only within the grooves of this one record, a healing piece of history, and one worth cherishing.
Stream the full album below or askOrange Twinif they have more LPs in stock.