Whether by choice or by dint of age, Joan Baez is losing her warble. And that’s a good thing. The classic Baez vocal style frankly makes me cringe. It just ain’t me, babe. That earnest vibrato sold the cult of the ’60s for a long time, whether Baez liked it or not. But many of us aren’t buying, and the rest are getting older and deafer. Hence the market logic of Day After Tomorrow, produced by alt-country legend Steve Earle.
Maybe it’s not Baez’s fault, but cults of personality and those over-enunciated consonants breed resistance in my heart. That said, I like this album—mainly for what it lacks. It eschews the swooping melodies and quaky soprano of yore in favor of a plainer sound and a lower vocal register, and the songs are evocative rather than confessional. Baez’ tendency to rush and refuse the rhythm—as if for a moment she has forgotten to sing—is used to good effect in songs like “Henry Russell’s Last Words.”
Baez always recognized songwriting greatness. Bob Dylan and John Prine served her well back in the day. Now Earle, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and others save her from the mire of ’60s nostalgia.
Joan Baez plays the University Theatre Tuesday, March 24, at 8 PM. $41/$39 advance.