JOAN BAEZ – Whistle Down The Wind (Proper PRPCD146)

Whistle Down The WndJoan Baez is about to embark on her final world tour. I guess that after more than fifty years of music and activism she has earned the right to kick back for a while. I’d like to think that Whistle Down The Wind won’t be her last album, however. I hope there is still some gas left in the tank. At 77, her voice is still sweet and strong but if you’re hoping for a full-on political treatise, and heaven knows we’re in need of one, you’ll be disappointed. I have no firm information on Joan’s band here but it’s safe to assume that multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell and percussionist Gabriel Harris are in the line-up.

The first two songs lean a little towards the radio-friendly which is surprising given that ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ is penned by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. Of course, it doesn’t sound anything like it did on Bone Machine – here it’s given a big sweeping arrangement – but I suppose it’s an expression of restlessness – perhaps a signal to anyone who would write Joan off. Josh Ritter’s ‘Be Of Good Heart’ is next, built on a rich acoustic guitar and minimal bass and percussion. It’s not one of his best known songs but nice enough.

With Anthony And The Johnsons’ ‘Another World’, the album takes off. The song is based on stripped down percussive guitar and it’s about…ecological concerns, the desire for the next life? It is nicely ambiguous. ‘Civil War’, written by producer Joe Henry is intriguing. On the surface, it’s about civilians becoming soldiers in the civil war but beneath that it’s a personal story. ‘The Things That We Are Made Of’ is, I guess, a moving-on song and then we come to Zoe Mulford’s wonderful ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ with big piano chords giving it real grandeur.  I had the great good fortune to hear Zoe sing this on stage a few weeks ago and I can’t help contrast the song with Trump’s take on the latest school massacre. If you’re looking for a political song; here it is but it’s real life that has made it so.

Joan returns to Waits and Brennan with ‘Last Leaf’, an unambiguous railing against aging. Fortunately, there are a few leaves left on the tree and Tom and Joan are among them. Ritter’s ‘Silver Blade’ harks back to Joan’s early days. It’s no relative of ‘Silver Dagger’ but it sounds very much like a reworked traditional ballad of the sort that made Joan famous. Eliza Gilkyson provides another political song in the shape of ‘The Great Correction’ which is also a companion piece to ‘Another World’ and finally we have Tim Eriksen’s retelling of ‘I Wish That The Wars Were All Over’. Once a traditional British song, it encapsulates both the style of Joan’s early repertoire and one of her enduring concerns.

Whistle Down The Wind succeeds in looking back and looking to the future and it needs time to settle into your consciousness. I do hope that Joan will be back, though.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Last Leaf’ – live:

Joan Baez returns with new album

Joan Baez

Legendary singer, songwriter, activist and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Joan Baez, will release a new album Whistle Down The Wind (Proper Records) on March 2 2018. Produced by three-time Grammy® Award winner Joe Henry and recorded over ten days of sessions in Los Angeles, Whistle Down The Wind gathers material by some of Baez’s favourite composers.

Whistle Down The Wind is Joan’s first new studio album in a decade, since 2008’s critically acclaimed, Grammy®-nominated Day After Tomorrow, which was produced by Steve Earle.  Its release ignited an extraordinary decade of achievement by Joan, including: the PBS American Masters series premiere of her life story, Joan Baez: How Sweet The Sound (2009), which underscored the 50th anniver­sa­ry of Joan’s debut at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival.  Joan’s seminal debut album of 1960 was honoured by the National Academy of Record­ing Arts & Sciences in 2011, which inducted it into the Grammy® Hall Of Fame; and subsequently by the Library of Congress in 2015, which selected it to be preserved in the National Recording Registry. That same year, Amnesty International bestowed its highest honour on Joan, the Ambassador of Conscience Award, in recognition of her exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights and she was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in April 2017.

Record-breaking years of touring in the recent past included Joan’s first tours in three decades in both Australia (2013) and South America (2014).  Joan’s 75th birthday was celebrated at New York’s Beacon Theater in January 2016, where she was joined by Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris and a host of others.

Joan’s first solo exhibition of paintings was presented in Mill Valley, CA in 2018.  The collec­tion celebrated “Mischief Makers” – portraits of risk-taking visionaries who have brought about social change through non-violent action.  The entire exhibit was subsequently purchased by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and donated to Sonoma State University, where it will eventually be displayed at an envisioned new social justice learning centre on campus.

Joan Baez remains a musical force of nature of incalculable influence.  She marched on the front line of the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King, shined a spotlight on the Free Speech Movement, took to the fields with Cesar Chavez, organized resistance to the Vietnam War, inspired Vaclav Havel in his fight for a Czech Republic, saluted the Dixie Chicks for their courage to protest the Iraq war, and stood with old friend Nelson Mandela in London’s Hyde Park as the world celebrated his 90th birthday. Joan’s earliest recordings fed a host of traditional ballads into the rock vernacular, before she unselfconsciously introduced Bob Dylan to the world in 1963.  Thus began a tradition of mutual mentoring that continues on Whistle Down The Wind, and which will reverberate long into the future across Joan’s lifetime of recordings.

In conjunction with the new album, Joan will undertake an extensive 2018 world tour, including UK and ROI dates in March and May. Speaking of the tour, which will begin on March 2 in Stockholm, Baez says “While 2018 will be my last year of formal extended touring, 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 longtime favourites with my audiences around the world.”

Artist’s website:

‘Diamonds And Rust’ – live: