In Stuttgart in 1970 there was a group of bohemian young Germans who were interested in film, music, art and politics. One of them was the future filmmaker Wim Wenders; another was an actress, artist and future songwriter called Sibylle Baier. In 1973 she appeared in Wenders’ Alice in the Cities, and by then she had recorded a collection of her own songs, sung in English and backed by her acoustic guitar, on a reel-to-reel machine in her living room. She gave Wenders, and probably other friends too, a cassette copy. And that’s the end of the story, except that 35 years later Wenders, while standing in front of Reckless Records in Chicago, sees a familiar face, a young face, on a record cover in the shop window. It’s Sibylle Baier. He rushes into the shop to buy a copy of the music he’s been carrying around on a battered cassette since the ’70s.
Colour Green came about through Baier’s first son, Robby, who grew up with his mother in the United States to become a musician and record producer. He compiled a CD of her unreleased songs and gave a copy to J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr, who forwarded them to the Orange Twin label, which released the album to insider acclaim. Wim Wenders, reacquainted with Baier’s music and still in contact with her, immediately commissioned her to write a new song for his film Palermo Shooting. She did: it’s called ‘Let Us Know’, and for some, hearing this song was the door back to Colour Green and the life of Sibylle Baier.
The album is totally intriguing: an artefact that offers the pleasures of its songs and the mysteries of the tomb. The music is similar in style to that of Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. But here’s the scary bit – it’s also as good. It is doing Colour Green a disservice to linger on comparisons, but from Cohen there is the plucked jauntiness of the nylon-string melodies and the European dance of melancholy and poetry; from Mitchell there’s the advanced guitar technique and a jazzy coolness in the singing. From both comes the idea of the song as confessional. That’s the frame, but what Baier does with it is truly amazing. Here are 14 songs that many an artist would be happy to sprinkle over a four-album career. Running concurrent with the vast pleasures that the record gives are the questions it throws up. How does a young German woman learn to sing and write in English so well? Where did the remarkable guitar playing come from? Where was the folk scene (in Stuttgart?) that would have nurtured and supported her? Answers aren’t forthcoming from the reclusive Baier, and because she had no standard ‘rock’ career there are no interviews to go back to. Instead there is an enigma, a new great singer-songwriter popping out of the air, her existence only known to us because her son gave a CD of her songs to the lead singer of Dinosaur Jr.