Joan Baez, Day After Tomorrow

Billy Altman

By Billy Altman

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Day After Tomorrow

Joan Baez

2008 marks Joan Baez's 50th anniversary as a performer, and with the release of Day After Tomorrow, the 67-year-old folk diva certainly proves the old adage about how there may be snow on the rooftop, but there is still fire in the chimney. Her first studio collection since 2003's Dark Chords on a Big Guitar, Day After Tomorrow finds Baez singing with a voice that may be physically less imposing than in her younger days, but now strikes different — and in some ways deeper — chords than ever before.

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Ably supported by producer/guitarist Steve Earle and a stellar backing band featuring multi-instrumentalists Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott, bassist Viktor Krauss and drummer Kenny Malone, Baez explores recurrent themes of geographic and spiritual homes lost and found through thoughtfully chosen material from writers like Tom Waits, Patty Griffin, Eliza Gilkyson and Earle himself. Especially moving are two "letter" compositions: Diana Jones' "Henry Russell's Last Words," about a trapped miner writing a goodbye note to his wife, and the Waits-penned title track, concerning an American soldier in Iraq who confesses he's not fighting for justice or freedom, but simply "for my life."

Throughout, Baez uses her ever-formidable interpretive skills to go beneath the words and melodies and reach the emotional core of each song. In the process, she reveals their inherent humanism — a binding thread that's been a hallmark of Joan Baez's music, and life, for a remarkable half a century. And still counting.