Sibylle Baier’s Colour Green: An Accidental Classic


 

One of my favorite discoveries this winter was the German singer Sibylle Baier. The story of how her wonderful record, Colour Green, came to be is as interesting as the music itself.

She grew up in Germany in the 50s and 60s. During a particularly low period in her early life, a friend tried to cheer up Baier with a road trip to Strasbourg and the Alps in Genoa. The excursion had a lasting impact. When she returned home, she wrote her first song, “Remember the Day,” in response to her travels with her friend Claudine.
 
Baier continued to write music for herself and her family. Between 1970 and 1973 she recorded a number of songs on a reel-to-reel tape recorder at her home in Germany. Although her music was featured in the film Umarmungen und andere Sachen, and she played a role in Wim Wenders’ 1973 movie Alice in the Cities. Baier chose not to pursue an acting or music career in the end. Instead, she moved to America and focused on raising her family.

These songs might never has seen the light of day if it weren’t for Sibylle’s son Robby. Some 30 years after Baier made these intimate recordings Robby compiled a CD of his mother’s early music to give to family members as gifts. He also gave a copy to J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., who passed the disc along to

Orange Twin, a record label in Athens, Georgia. In 2006 Baier’s music rightfully earned a loyal following when Orange Twin released the songs as the collection Color Green.

Sibylle Baier and her son Robby

The fourteen original songs on the album feature Baier singing and playing acoustic guitar. There are no background vocals or session musicians; the recordings are just as she made them in the early 70s. It was a wise decision to let these lovely home recordings stand on their own–overdubbing only would have muddied her clear, pure vocals. Everything about Colour Green is memorable, most especially Baier’s unique, haunting voice and the intimate lyrics that tell simple stories about daily life.

Baier has a wonderful eye for small, everyday details. One minute, she sings about buttered bread, apple pie, and feeding the dog and cat, and the next, she is quoting the poet T.S. Elliott. And she shares these intimate details with none of the sentimentality or false nostalgia that mars so much acoustic folk music. Baier gently evokes the experience of riding in a car, coming home from work, or visiting the zoo with her daughter and son.

Sibylle Baeir in the woods near Stuttgart (Photo courtesy of www.sibyllebaier.com)

The fact that these songs were never meant for public consumption gives them an authenticity and sincerity that is frequently absent in most of today’s popular music. Baier’s straightforward style reminds us that political earnestness, irony, fancy production, and virtuoso musical talent aren’t necessary to create memorable, moving work. Nick Drake may be her closest equivalent, though early Leonard Cohen, Cat Power, and Vashti Bunyan also spring to mind. But in the end, such comparisons don’t do Baier justice. There is really no one else quite like her.

I’ve been recommending Colour Green to friends all winter. I’m only sorry that I didn’t discover this gem sooner. Baier is the perfect music for cold, snowy evenings by the fire (or huddled by the radiator inside your tiny, Brooklyn apartment). As the snow finally melts here in New Hampshire, I’m sure I’ll continue listening to Baier’s poignant descriptions of blue skies and “leg high grass.”

According to Sibylle Baier’s official website, the singer has been writing and recording some new songs since the release of Colour Green. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that fans will be treated to some new music before too long.

 


 
By | 2016-11-11T21:53:11+00:00 02.17.12|Sounds|7 Comments

About the Author:

I’ve spent almost 20 years helping thousands of successful artists of all disciplines and working to make the arts more accessible. (One friend likes to call me “the arts enabler.”) From 1999-2012 I worked at The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, but I've also done time at an arts magazine, a library, an art museum, and a raptor rehabilitation center. In May of 2012 I left MacDowell to pursue writing, speaking, curating, and creative projects full-time. In 2015 I was named a “Top 100 Artist, Innovator, Creative” by Origin magazine. I've appeared as an arts and culture commentator on New Hampshire Public Radio, and in 2017 I was the recipient of the Wampler Art Professorship at James Madison University. I am the founder of the Gwarlingo Salon series, which connects artists like DJ Spooky with rural audiences in the Monadnock region. In 2017 my collaborator Corwin Levi and I will publish our first book, Mirror Mirrored, which combines Grimms’ fairy tales with vintage illustration remixes and the work of contemporary artists like Kiki Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, and Amy Cutler. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, but have called New Hampshire home since 1999. My studio is located in the historic, mill village of Harrisville. I miss fried okra, the early southern spring, and restaurants that stay open past 9:00 p.m., but rural life agrees with me. In New Hampshire I can see the stars, go kayaking or snowshoeing, watch bald eagles fish in the lake, and focus on my creative work in silence. I no longer have to worry about traffic jams; deer, wild turkeys, and frost heaves are the primary road hazards here. Although I live in the country, I’m fortunate enough to be part of a vibrant arts community that extends beyond this small New England village. The quiet days are punctuated by regular travel and frequent visits to museums, theaters, readings, arts events, lectures, and open studios around the country. (You can read my full CV here.) Thanks for visiting Gwarlingo. I hope you'll be in touch.

7 Comments

  1. Robin MacArthur May 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Ah, she’s so wonderful! (And sounds shockingly contemporary.) Thank you for this lead.

  2. Stephanie Brockway February 18, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Michelle, I have just stumbled upon your site the other day. It’s wonderful! Definitely going to buy Colour Green.

    • Michelle Aldredge February 18, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Thanks Stephanie! So glad you found Gwarlingo. If you like Sibylle, you might enjoy the music of Clemens Knieper, a young German singer and filmmaker. I just discovered his work yesterday. His father is a composer (who wrote the music for Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire.”) Clemens lived with Sibylle Baier when he moved to the states many years ago. You can listen to his album Bamboo House here. Enjoy!

  3. Sharon Creech February 18, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Sa-weeet!

  4. Jeffrey Gross February 18, 2012 at 11:03 am

    “authenticity and sincerity that is frequently absent in most of today’s popular music” – nicely understated. And a hundred times true. Thanks for that. 😉

  5. David Chandra March 11, 2013 at 3:25 am

    Thanks so much for the post… I’ve loved Sibylle’s music since years, everytime i play her songs my heart melts… It’s amazing how such a gem only surfaced that late, given it’s absolute quality and deepness. Baier has nothing to envy to greats like Nick Drake or Jackson C. Frank, the intimacy contained in this music is extremely powerful and it’s often difficult not to cry while listening to it… expressing fragility and beauty of human life in the most sensitive, beautiful and poetic way. Colour Green is gem, a treasure for those who will accept it with their heart open.

  6. […] Baier is a little-known German folk singer who, according to this, recorded a handful of songs in her home on a reel-to-reel tape recorder in the ’70s but […]

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