The incomparable Joan Baez’s first album in six years does not disappoint. Ms. Baez picks outstanding songs from the cream of today’s crop of upcoming singer-songwriters, including two each from Greg Brown and Gillian Welch/David Rawlings. Even if you’ve heard these songs before, when Baez endows them with her signature soprano, the poetry of the lyrics increases exponentially. Baez bathes with obvious love such lines as “Life is a thump-ripe melon, so sweet and such a mess” (“Rexroth’s Daughter") and “There was silver and begonias, dynamite and cattle” (“Wings”). Mark Spector and a team of engineers take equally good care of the production, resulting in outstanding quality and clarity of sound. Three songs, appropriately placed in the middle, make up the spiritual center of the album: “Motherland,” “Wings,” and “Rexroth’s Daughter,” from which the title was derived. Baez segues seamlessly from one to the next -- all are in a minor key, all get treated with lots of atmospheric electric guitar, and all speak to the concept of coming home, to finding a place of peace and safety, whether a person, a place, or an object. In these turbulent times, such a place is the ultimate gift, and for the duration of this album, Baez offers it up. Highly recommended.
Performance CreditsJoan Baez Primary Artist
Gail Ann Dorsey Background Vocals
Duke McVinnie Guitar,Electric Bass
Rani Arbo Background Vocals
Doug Pettibone Acoustic Guitar
George Javori Drums
Byron Isaacs Electric Bass,Acoustic Bass
Technical CreditsGreg Brown Composer
Steve Earle Composer
Joe Henry Composer
Natalie Merchant Composer
Bo Ramsey Producer
Mark Spector Producer
Gillian Welch Composer
Norman Moore Art Direction
Tom Tucker Engineer
David Rawlings Composer
Ryan Adams Composer
Caitlin Cary Composer
Brandon Mason Engineer
Josh Ritter Composer
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
With "Dark Chords on a Big Guitar", Joan Baez has graced us with a thought-provoking collection of songs that touches both the heart & soul. Reflecting the times in which we live, this is a dark album in both music and lyrics. But Joan's smile on the black & white cover photograph hints of the hope and happiness that still exist, which she proceeds to uncover through a series of 'song snapshots'. The album succeeds first and foremost due to Joan's voice & vision. Starting with "Play Me Backwards" (1992), and continuing with "Gone From Danger" (1997), Joan has honed her interpretative abilities. After 62 years of life, Joan's "lived in" voice serves as the perfect instrument for these brilliant songs. The angelic qualities of her younger voice have been replaced by a more Earthly warmth. Her range, in a sense, has gotten wider. She sings as if she has stepped into the shoes of these various personas and walked around for a while. The next positive factor here is due to the musicians. The album's intimate sound is provided mostly by members of Joan's touring band. This makes for an unusual, but winning situation. "Dark Chords on a Big Guitar" has the sound of a live album, but with studio recorded quality. The third ingredient in this superb mixture is the choice of songs. While there is not a dud among them, standouts include 2 Greg Brown songs: "Sleeper"; the tale of a former lover haunting our dreams, and "Rexroth's Daughter"; wherein what appears to be a search for an individual turns out to really be an exploration of the meaning of one's life. The literal & spiritual center of the album is provided by Natalie Merchant's "Motherland" and Josh Ritter's "Wings". Both of these poetic songs seem to have struck a chord in Joan, producing heartfelt renditions. We are all reminded here of the arms we have for hugging, and the "wings" we have for soaring above the fray. The album ends with Steve Earle's "Christmas in Washington", so timely (with the coming presidential election), and unfortunately also timeless, in its tale of hypocritical greedy politicians. The song's protagonist's story eerily mirrors Joan's own life's journey, and Joan gives it a knowing take. Another of the album's highlights is Ryan Adams' "In My Time of Need". This story song shares a universal truth: We all need, whether from a friend, family, or a companion, someone to be there for us in our time of need, and us for them. Ultimately, this album contributes to the soundtrack for that provided comfort. Take a listen, and let Joan's smile and singing "just off and carry you".
Like other Dark Chords reviewers I feel that Joan Baez is choosing to use her voice in a particular way on this recording in a way that suits the music, the songs themselves and the times we are living in. It is a number of years since I heard Joan Baez sing live -1997, I think - when she sang "Matty Groves", from one of her earliest recordings in full soprano and faultlessly - all 22 verses! These songs on Dark Chords would not sound right sung in a high soprano voice: they are more earthy and I think Joan's treatment of them on this CD is no less than superb. To my ear this CD sounds as good - and at times as raw - as a live performance. It's true that Joan's voice is changing over time but she seems to be rising wonderfully to the challenge of a new style suggested by the songs themselves. I feel, too, that her singing voice is now much closer than before to her speaking voice which always has to my mind been much deeper than her "achingly pure soprano" when singing. Her current singing style has a contemporary edge to it, which is likely to get more people listening to her work and more radio playing than was maybe the case previously. People I have played the CD to are using words like "mellow" and comment how well the voice and the band blend on most tracks. I was pleased to see Dark Chord listed on some website under "Adult Contemporary". This recording seems to be leaning towards commercial values without compromising the integrity of Joan, the main performer, or her beliefs. Joan Baez is back on the music scene (though for her die-hard fans she has always been there.) All this just to say that I like this CD very much!!! Go on, treat yourself! Buy Dark Chords on a Big Guitar and revel in the quality of a lovingly put-together piece of music craft!
Dark Chords on a Big Guitar was well worth the wait. I have been listening to Joan Baez for thiry years and I am always adding to my collection and this cd is played daily. I highly recommend this album.
Thom Jurek's excellent review is good enough for me. I've always loved Joan Baez, and can't wait to hear this album. Unlike many other reviewers, Jurek really seems to know what he's talking about, and expresses it very clearly. Thank You !