Whistle Down the Wind by Joan Baez
Joan Baez has emerged from a 10-year hiatus with a powerful new studio album. Her voice has a different range, earthier and more contemporary. Many of the songs on Whistle Down the Wind are reflections on growing older, facing transition and hoping for a better future. Production has been handled by musician Joe Henry, who excels in crafting breakthrough recordings by roots-based performers like Billy Bragg, Emmylou Harris, Loudon Wainwright and long time folk hero Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Baez does a version of Henry’s ‘Civil War’ that illustrates her new adventure into a more modern, atmospheric, acoustic sound.
Album opener ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ (Tom Waits) finds the protagonist stuck in small-town America and planning a move to the big city in search of something better. The bluesy and minimalist reading of Anonhi’s ‘Another World’ tells of things lost during transition. ‘Last Leaf’ is a poignant song about the passing of the seasons or, perhaps, the end of an era. The absolute standout track (by unknown writer Zoe Mulford) is ‘The President Sang “Amazing Grace”’. This is a song that seems to come from Baez the Amnesty International ambassador; it perfectly encapsulates her belief in hope and non-violence. It describes former president Barack Obama at a funeral service for those killed in a church mass-shooting. He sang ‘Amazing Grace’ at the service. The next song, Eliza Gilkyson’s ‘The Great Correction’, outlines the current American situation. It includes the hope that something new will arise. This is a very good collection of songs by a legend not content to rest on her laurels.