Nearly a decade removed from her last studio album, Joan Baez delivers another pearl on "Whistle Down The Wind." The new release features 10 deeply felt interpretations about the human condition and the state of the world.
Baez's voice is in fine form and if her range now is, unsurprisingly, more earth angel than angelic, it serves to enhance her expressiveness, the depth of the lyrics and strength of the melodies.
Some of the songwriters here, like Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan and Eliza Gilkyson, also contributed to "Day After Tomorrow," the 2008 album produced by Steve Earle that's like a soul mate of this one, shepherded by Joe Henry.
The Waits/Brennan title track and their "Last Leaf" are typically full of captivating images. A few lines, like one about Dwight Eisenhower, even provide some moments of comic relief. Baez can be mischievously funny in interviews, but outside of these lines, she remains serious here.
"Another World," from Anohni, is one of the most disconsolate tracks — "I need another world/This one's nearly gone" — while "The President Sang Amazing Grace," Zoe Mulford's reflection on the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting, is one of the most moving.
Henry's own "Civil War" seems both personal and universal while Mary Chapin Carpenter's "The Things That We Are Made Of" is deeply poetic with a glimmer of hope.
"Silver Blade," one of Josh Ritter's two contributions, is a self-defense murder ballad where, unlike the motherly protection provided in "Silver Dagger" from Baez's 1960 debut, the protagonist can take care of herself.
Baez will be presenting "Whistle Down the Wind" on what's meant to be her last extended tour. It's a strong album for a farewell, representing her talents and the times.