Lost Albums: Sibylle Baier – Colour Green | Double J
Sibylle Baier, a housewife and mother, recorded Colour Green at her German home on a reel to reel tape machine between 1970 and 1973. Upon finishing the recording, she gave out a few copies and retired the master tapes to the attic of her home. The tapes remained forgotten for 30 years until her son discovered them. He sent out cassettes of the recording, which led to the release of the album (in part courtesy of J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr).
Colour Green is an album never intended for wider public consumption. Listening to it is akin to eves dropping on a private performance or album by a talent equal to Leonard Cohen, Bridget St John or Karen Dalton. Colour Green is one of the purest distillations of classic folk songwriting ever recorded. Aside from Baier’s brittle vocalizing and timeless song craft, the lyrics are what is so affecting about the album. They traverse the spectrum of the everyday as heartbreak and insecurity remain buoyed by hope and an uncertain optimism.
Colour Green remains Sibylle Baier’s only album so fans and critics commonly romanticize and mythologize it as the work of a reclusive savant. But this album is the work of a mother, a wife and a friend. This is perhaps why this album resonates with so many people.
There is a purity and innocence to Colour Green which is slowly eroded as one gets an insight into Baier’s mindset.
The album is a remarkably intimate portrait of the songwriter. Although now recognized as an accidental classic, Colour Green remained critically unheralded – or more accurately, unheard – for its first 35 years of existence. It is only now finding an audience and, with the benefit of hindsight, is being acclaimed as one of the vital records of the 1970s folk underground.
While critics have sought to draw parallels between Baier and outsider folk artists of the era like Vashti Bunyan, there is something in her songcraft and story which suggests she is without contemporary. Baier was a songwriter who sought only to write and record songs to satisfy her own creative wont. Devoid of ego and thirst for recognition, Baier wrote and recorded an album on par with Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter or Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate and then filed it away in her attic after giving a copy only to a few close friends (including filmmaker Wim Wenders).
There is a purity and innocence to Colour Green which, over the course of the album, is slowly eroded as one gets an insight into Baier’s mindset. She, perhaps for the sake of song, clings to a very brittle version of happiness.
One of the few things we know about Baier is that, after a period of intense depression, friends forced her out of her bed to take a road trip to Strasbourg. Upon returning from the trip, which took in the Alps, Sibylle wrote her first song, ‘Remember the Day’. It was an ode to being alive. The story of Baier’s inspiration to write her first song attests to her ability to capture the beauty that lurks behind our most despondent moments.
Colour Green is a rare album that serves as a soundtrack for those in the midst of heartbreak, or in love, in ecstasy, or in depression. It is a feat few songwriters are capable of.
We know little about Sibylle Baier. Interviews are scarce and the outside world has been privy only to snippets of information. We know she now lives in America where she emigrated with her family from Germany. We also know she featured in one scene of Wim Wenders 1974 German road film Alice In The Cities, in which she sings on a boat to her then small children. Aside from this, we have only Colour Green. But it’s a record that reveals more about Sibylle Baier than any interview could. Few albums truly uncover the psyche of the songwriter at the helm quite so intimately. One can’t help but feel that, in one album recorded 35 years ago, Baier revealed more about herself than most artists do over a traditional career.
Colour Green truly bares Sibylle Baier for the whole world to see. Its unreserved honesty, longing, desperation and stewing sadness perhaps stand to reason why it might be the only album we ever hear from the reticent Baier.
In an age that places narcissism, ambition and celebrity above actual art, Sibylle Baier is a reminder that timeless art and beautiful songcraft can emerge from the most unexpected places.