Whistle Down the Wind marks the return of long-time singer-songwriter Joan Baez, and it proves to be quite the comeback. This album marks Baez’s first release since 2008 and features collaborations with fellow songwriting legends.
The album features songs written by the renowned composer Tom Waits, Americana songwriter Josh Ritter, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. With such astounding musical content, coupled with the production talents of Grammy-winning Joe Henry, Whistle Down the Wind is an ambitious effort that effectively illustrates the thematic intentions of its material.
In this album, Baez returns to the politically charged lyricism that is characteristic of her work. Each song seems to tell a story while providing commentary undertones regarding contemporary societal issues. The track “Civil War” bears layered meaning through its somewhat ambiguous lyrics all of which seem to highlight the divisive socio-political landscape. In “Another World,” Baez laments the current state of the environment through lyrics, “I’m gonna miss the bees / I’ll miss the things that grow / I’m gonna miss the trees / I’ll miss the sun / I’ll miss the animals / I’ll miss you, everyone…” Such statements, accompanied by the percussive rhythm of her guitar, create a sense of urgency for change before the beauty and sustainability of our world is lost. Baez’s cover of Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace” offers a powerful recount of the 2015 shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. The track not only gives a harrowing reminder of that atrocity, but also serves to remind listeners that if our nation doesn’t move toward change, then such crimes will persist. The final track “I Wish The Wars Were All Over” perfectly encompasses the overarching themes of ambivalence and hope to convey Baez’s desire for progressive change through symbolic storytelling and poetic lyricism.
Musically, Whistle Down The Wind plays to the strengths of the artist by utilizing a minimalistic production. Henry places Baez’s fingerpicked guitar and haunting, melancholic alto at the forefront, which makes for an intimate and ethereal atmosphere. These production choices allow the message of each song to truly resonate with its listeners to provide a subtle call to action. Whistle Down The Wind demonstrates Baez’s unrelenting commitment to activism and remains consistent with the intention of her prolific career. With the return of Joan Baez, we are reminded of the damage of societal complacency.
After listening, I remain thankful for the presence of songwriters like Baez who remind us that it is solely our responsibility to enact change.