❉ The folk legend’s first new studio album in a decade is a sparce ten-track treat.
All you need are three chords and the truth, so they say. Joan Baez has made a repertoire for herself with only her voice and her six stringed companion, releasing her first album in nearly a decade (her last release was 2008’s Nashville set Day After Tomorrow). It’s not a revolutionary record (she’s not on a career winner as Bob Dylan and Robert Plant were on Tempest and Band of Joy respectively), but it’s nice to see that Baez can still find inspiration from a genre of music that owes more of a debt to her than she to it. Recorded over an impressive ten days of sessions in Los Angeles, Baez teams with up three-time Grammy® Award winner producer Joe Henry for a sparse ten track treat.
Baez turns to the music of composers old and new, Tom Waits, Josh Ritter, Anohni, Tom Eriksen and Mary Chapin-Carpenter sitting nicely beside each other, a generational collage of musicians, all of whom undoubtedly inspired by Baez’s work in the nineteen sixties. An activist who stands proudly ahead of Vanessa Redgrave, Bob Geldof and Peter Gabriel (she marched alongside Martin Luther King, led a line of resistees to the Vietnam War and stood proudly beside Nelson Mandela in London’s Hyde Park for his ninetieth birthday), Civil War is a nice return to form for Baez, sincerity in her voice as she sings of a war all too familiar, but never rectified. Piano led The President Sang Amazing Grace is sung with the rasp of experience, a very different Baez to the singer who welcomed a generation of Live Aid attendees to their Woodstock with her rendition of Amazing Grace. I Wish The Wars Were All Over, march rhyme intact, is likely to be an audience sing-a-long on her newly awaited tour, a Scarborough Fair companion for peace seekers and millennial hippies.
Be of Good Heart is a warm acoustic ballad, her warm tones giving the Ritter original panache and sophistication, worthiest here of mid-morning radio play. Another World, by contrast, is raw and primal, acoustic clatters and percussive splatterrings giving the sound of a camp-fire ballad. The Great Correction is pleasantly reminiscent of Robbie Robertson and The Band- it may well still be the sixties, you know! Correction, perhaps the standout deep cut, features Baez singing with the right degree of disenchantment and hope- classic Baez. And as strong as the Tom Waits original of Whistle Down The Wind is, Baez’s finger-picking and delicate singing matches Waits version, perhaps even bettering it.
As with many of her works, Whistle leads to an upcoming tour. “While 2018 will be my last year of formal extended touring,” Baez declares, “I’m looking forward to being on the road with a beautiful new album about which I am truly proud. I welcome the opportunity to share this new music as well as long-time favourites with my audiences around the world.” With such sincerity and grace, how can anyone not fail to be impressed?
❉ Joan Baez – ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ is out on 2 March 2018. Pre-order the album from Proper Records.