This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 11/03
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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Dark? Try unremittingly bleak. Dour enough to test the mettle of the late Fred Rogers. Definitely not to be used as a mitigator in any anti-depressant clinical drug trials.
Joan Baez has returned with a collection of covers, choice songs gathered from both easily-recognized artists (Greg Brown, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Steve Earle, Natalie Merchant!) and a few unknowns or relatively unknowns, at least to me, (Ryan Adams, Caitlin Gary, Joe Henry and Josh Ritter).
Does the release work? It depends on what you are looking for.
Baez' voice has deepened and her range become a bit limited over the years and those expecting or wanting the memorable higher-octave vocals of "Mary Hamilton" or "Geordie" should forsake this offering. Someone with limited or no exposure to this folk diva for quite some time will find the "new" Baez sound quite interesting.
As for the songs: "In My Time of Need," with a whiskey or shotgun reference or two, could easily have been penned by Fred Eaglesmith, rather than Adams. The torchy, bluesey "Rosemary Moore" also is compelling.
Penned by Welch and Rawlings, the neck-surgery-minus-the-stitches tune "Caleb Meyer" and "Elvis Presley Blues," are both engrossing.
Merchant's "Motherland" is languidly presented but works well in that mode. Ritter's "Wings" is an excellent selection, a dense, unpredictable, where-is-it-going-to-go-next tale.
The compelling "King's Highway" is simply eerie and chilling, the type of tune that makes you check the locks on your doors and windows. Joe Henry deserves high praise for this one.
Brown contributes two songs, "Sleeper" and "Rexroth's Daughter." The former isn't presented with the needed wistfulness and is buried a bit too much by the percussion and guitar backing. Brown and Eliza Gilkyson both provides more enjoyable, streamlined versions. The rendition of the latter is enjoyable although Baez skips a verse in the middle.
This is a release about loss---loss of innocence, direction, life, lifestyle, control. Baez has made terrific song selections and, for the most part, they work well.
Baez, on vocals is backed by Byron Isaacs on electric and acoustic bass; George Javor on drums and percussion; Duke McVinnie on guitars and electric bass; Rani Arbo on background vocals; Gale Ann Dorsey on background vocals and Doug Pettibone on acoustic guitar.
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