Passing the time on a long train ride with Sibylle Baier

Image courtesy of Luke Jenkins ’26.

Sibylle Baier’s album “Colour Green” took 36 years to be released. I would be released from these walls in 11 hours. Hunched over in my seat, I was flying eastward in an Amtrak car, on the Lake Shore Limited line, to visit America’s finest gem, its crowning jewel: Ohio. I sat alone in a window seat, cross-legged and content, looking out into the Hudson Valley. My unexpected companion? A German singer-songwriter with one lone album, a desolate folk style and a peculiar life story—Sibylle Baier.

 

The train’s hum quieted as I played “Tonight,” the first track on her 2006 release, “Colour Green.” According to a rare interview with Baier from the Goethe Institute, the album was originally recorded from 1970 to 1973 after a trip across Europe. It would take until the 21st century before being released by Georgia-based Orange Twin Records. Why did it take all those years for her to reach an audience? Simply put, Baier did not plan to release the record. After appearing in the movie “Alice in the Cities” in 1973, Baier turned away from a career in the arts, focusing instead on raising her kids. The recordings went into the attic, and in a rather poetic fashion, it was one of Baier’s children, a son named Robby, who compiled and encouraged the release of her work.

 

This situation makes for an interesting dynamic between Baier and the listener, one that I experienced firsthand on the train, trying not to fall as I made my way to the bathroom. The album is eerily intimate, never intended to be heard by anyone outside of a few close friends. It exists wholly and completely for Baier’s own enjoyment, her own contentment. Her life is like a movie trope, the notorious artistic recluse, the name that could’ve been, but chose not to be. With so little known about Baier, so few photos and so few interviews, she has been immortalized almost entirely through these 14 songs.

 

The first of these 14 is a melancholic ode about a commute to work. The notes are monotonous and steady. Each track following is notably similar—Baier’s voice clear and succinct over the sound of her guitar. And that’s it. That’s the entire album. She goes on about nature, about sights and sounds, but the content is abstract at best. She floats from one place to another, not unlike the rather pungent train I was on. Albany, Ithaca and Rochester were all equally unimportant as my heart yearned for that notoriously clean, refreshing Ohio air. 

 

Only half an hour later on my ride and I had reached the end of “Colour Green.” You have to wait for the very last track, “Give Me a Smile,” to hear any other instrument besides guitar accompany her voice. And then it ends, just like that. A tiny flourish to cap off a near-perfect album, so entirely free from where music stands today. It’s incredibly easy to get through at just 33 minutes long, but unfortunately for me, I still had 10 and a half hours to go. I listened a few more times.

 

If you’re just looking to dip your toes in or don’t have the time to listen to the album all at once, I recommend “Remember the Day,” “Girl,” or “Forget About.” These songs are my favorites, but their sounds are also largely representative of Baier’s entire repertoire. “Colour Green” would be a nice addition to your listening this fall if you’re looking to disconnect, or if you need mindless music when studying at the library. For something remotely similar, see Vashti Bunyan’s “Just Another Diamond Day.” I hope neither album disappoints, and if they do, give them another listen the next time you’re riding Amtrak.

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