It is very easy when dealing with artists so deeply woven into the history of music as Joan Baez is to break out the hyperbole; there is plenty of it surrounding her and it is well deserved. Since her debut album saw light of day 57 years ago she has created benchmarks and set trends, awards and accolades have surrounded her and the fact that she has recently announced that this will likely be her last album is both regretful but far from unexpected. You could hardly ask more from her, though close friend Steve Earle is on a mission to persuade her otherwise. But aside from the rhetoric, even if this is her saying goodbye musically, what Baez has delivered here, ten years since the critically acclaimed Day After Tomorrow, is a stunning album.
With songs penned by the likes of Tom Waits, Joe Henry and Mary Chapin Carpenter, it is an album which still after all these years sums up her continual quest to speak about the times she lives in. It is gently political, revelling in observation and social commentary rather than anything more forceful, but it has always been her way. Whilst the likes of The President Sang Amazing Grace takes a literal stance, generally she is happy to remain analogous, making broad statements rather than specific points.
Civil War is a gorgeous, lilting waltz, Last Leaf is the earth song she has long been associated with and Be of Good Heart underlines the feeling of saying goodbye. But this is more than a parting musical glass, it is also a love letter to a society gone far beyond anything her younger self could have even imagined and to a planet that may be past the point of recovery.
Let’s hope that this is not her swan song, but if it is Joan Baez can retire safe in the knowledge that she steps out of the spotlight with all the charm, grace and musical finesse that she first stepped into it with.