Reactivated diamond gets her sparkle back
IT has been a while since the ethereal soprano that thrilled Joan Baez’s early audiences made way for an earthier alto, and her voice has mellowed further through the decades. It remains a captivating instrument, but on studio recordings during the past couple of decades it invariably has been mixed too low and, as a result, overwhelmed by the orchestration. Day After Tomorrow demonstrates the folly of that technique: here the vocals are accorded the primacy they deserve and are complemented by exquisitely balanced acoustic accompaniment. Add to that the sublimest bunch of songs to have graced a Baez disc since the mid- 1970s, and the result is an outstanding addition to her oeuvre. The achievement can be credited in part to Steve Earle, who not only produced the album but contributed 30 per cent of the songs, including the opening and closing tracks, God is God and Jericho Road . They are formidable songs in the vein of Christmas in Washington , but neither of them is quite as poignant as the gently anti- war title track, penned by Tom Waits. Baez’s take on Elvis Costello and T- Bone Burnett’s Scarlet Tide is equally arresting. She has consistently been supportive of younger songwriters ( including B. Dylan in the days when he was a complete unknown), and in this instance has included a couple of songs by Eliza Gilkyson ( Rose of Sharon and Requiem ) that are redolent of the Child ballads that once constituted the core of Baez’s repertoire, as well as one by Thea Gilmore ( The Lower Road ). The Bush administration has rekindled Baez’s activism, and this may be her most socially conscious disc since the ’ 80s, but it takes the path of subtle lamentation rather than strident sloganeering. At barely 37 minutes, the album is arguably too fleeting a pleasure, but its contents unquestionably fall in the category of diamonds, not rust.