Re­ac­ti­vated di­a­mond gets her sparkle back

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music -

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.

Mahir Ali

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