Whistle Down The Wind
Joan Baez recently announced her retirement from touring – so we can assume this album is her swansong; a final set of recordings. It’s the album she deserves to go out on, one of quiet dignity, gentle grace, stoic, proud, subtly defiant; she’s one of the great song interpreters and here the selections and production (Joe Henry) are exquisite.
The songwriters she honours include Josh Ritter, Eliza Gilkyson, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Henry and Anohni. There’s a brace of Tom Waits tunes, including the opening, title track and a gorgeous version of Last Leaf.
The production and playing here feels closely linked with Henry’s last solo album – the two projects happening quite close together I imagine.
But as empathetic and sublime as the little percussive stabs, the bowing of saws, the lapping bass and carefully placed guitars may be this is Joan’s show. The added grit to her voice a new gravitas. In that sense – and the idealism is still here, the activism, the pride, the frustration and anger – this is as true as she’s ever been. It’s really something that someone can do that through the songs of others. I’m reminded here of Glen Campbell’s swansong. Also of Baez’s own Dark Chords On A Big Guitar, to which this is a palinode of sorts, spiritual successor, not just sequel.
There’s so much heart in these recordings – but particularly in the versions of Joe Henry’s Civil War, Carpenter’s The Things We Are Made Of and Josh Ritter’s Silver Blade.
In fact the album has several centrepieces – but it’s Zoe Mulford’s The President Sang Amazing Grace that steals the show. This, with the closing I Wish The Wars Were All Over, is Baez’s anti-Trump sentiment. Her statement/s. The performances have her trademark poise and vulnerability; she rocks between the two, cradling the song, holding on for strength and with strength.
It’s been an incredible career. Baez is an amazing person. And here she offers a career summation. A powerful set of songs, so beautifully recorded, dutifully served.
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