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As Joan Baez’s embarks on her final year of formal extended touring the singer, songwriter, activist, Rock’N’Roll Hall of Fame inductee releases her latest album. Recorded over ten days in Los Angeles, Whistle Down The Wind once again sees her go for songs from some of her favourite songwriters of the Americana scene. 

Ones of great merit I hasten to add. Tom Waits - Kathleen Brennan and Josh Ritter have two songs apiece included to go with one a piece from Mary Chapin Carpenter, Eliza Gilkyson, Joe Henry, Zoe Mulford, Tim Eriksen and Anohni. Much diligence has been taken in choosing the wonderful complement of songs, of this there is no doubt. 

Baez, though now very much in her twilight years her voice on record still possesses much grace and warmth. You could not find no greater demonstration of which than on the opening track, track cut “Whistle Down The Wind” (Waits, Brennan) as much beauty transpires. With lesser people, the brilliance of which could well prove to be a rod in their own back! Not so is the case with Baez as she eases, effortlessly, through the pretty played “Be Of Good Heart” (Ritter). While on displaying pleading tones, Anohni’s “Another World” prods and probes from beginning to end. On slowing the tempo and casting a melancholy feel Henry’s “Civil War” speaks of lost dreams and riding out ‘this civil war’ as bygone days are tenderly spoken of (decked out in piano, Dobro and a gentle percussive rhythm she is found in top form). 

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “The Things We Are Made Of” finds Baez’s in wistful mood, as the song edges majestically, through aspects of love, and though not outwardly dynamic, Baez’s cadence ensures it doesn't come up short in the passion stakes. Of which there is none lacking on the poignant “The President Sang Amazing Grace”(Mulford) as the brutal killings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina are remembered, and the sadness and futility of it all underlined. Another from Waits and Brennan follows in the form of the amazingly shrewd “Last Leaf” as Baez revels in performing these songs steeped in quality, plus you have splendid instrumental support and the genial Joe Henry handle the production throughout this album that has to be her best in years! It has allowed Baez showcase the grace and beauty of a voice thought to have faded.       

With electric lead guitar and piano weaving a wonderful base she does a moving version of Gilkyson’s (great to see what is just one of many gems in her locker gain a bigger audience) terrific “The Great Correction”. Although the original version takes some beating. Tim Eriksen’s “I Wish The Wars Were All Over” ends the album and is one I greatly applaud, it has Baez return to a style of old as it speaks the same language as the legendary folk act (Baez stance against violence goes back to America’s Civil Rights movement, and the Vietnam War) and, the album close on an unprecedented high. 

Maurice Hope  

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May 2018

John Prine
67 pts.
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Jeb Barry and the Pawn Shop Saints
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Settling Scores vol. 2

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