Joan Baez has been as busy as ever in the five years since she celebrated the landmark years of 2008-2009, the 50th anniversaries of her legendary residency in 1958 at the famed Club 47 in Cambridge, and her subsequent debut at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival.
In addition to multiple tours of the US and abroad, the recent past has included the induction of Joan’s 1960 debut Vanguard LP by the National Recording Academy into the Grammy® Hall Of Fame and the presentation to her of the inaugural Joan Baez Award for Outstanding Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights at Amnesty International’s 50th Anniversary gathering in 2012.
She remains a musical force of nature whose influence is incalculable – marching on the front line of the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King, inspiring Vaclav Havel in his fight for a Czech Republic, singing on the first Amnesty Interna¬tional tour and more recently, standing alongside Nelson Mandela when the world celebrated his 90th birthday in London’s Hyde Park. She shined a spotlight on the Free Speech Movement, took to the fields with Cesar Chavez, organized resistance to the Vietnam War, then forty years later saluted the Dixie Chicks for their courage to protest the Iraq war. Her earliest recordings fed a host of traditional ballads into the rock vernacular, before she unselfconsciously introduced Bob Dylan to the world in 1963, beginning a tradition of mutual mentoring that continues to this day.
Amongst the many honors bestowed upon her, she is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, the greatest honor that the Recording Academy can bestow (2007). Day After Tomorrow, her 2008 album was praised by critics and nominated for a Grammy. Its release was followed by the PBS American Masters premier of her life story, Joan Baez: How Sweet The Sound.
Themes of hope and homecoming weave through Day After Tomorrow. Other songs explore the individual and collective anguish of life during wartime, starting with the Tom Waits title track, "Day After Tomorrow" (introduced on his 2004 album Real Gone, and reprised as the emotional closing track of Body Of War, the award-winning 2007 documentary of a paralyzed Iraq war recruit) and the haunting "Scarlet Tide" (written by Elvis Costello and T Bone Burnett for the 2003 Civil War film, Cold Mountain).
Day After Tomorrow, recorded in Nashville, is Joan's first full-length album collaboration with Steve Earle, who produces, plays guitar and sings harmony. Earle is also represented by two new compositions: "I Am A Wanderer," written overnight before one of the sessions; and the album's opening track, "God Is God" (which has already won a place in Joan's concert sets, along with Earle's perennial "Christmas In Washington" - "So come back Woody Guthrie/ Come back to us now..."). A third Earle tune closes the album in acappella form, "Jericho Road," a song that would not be out of place on a Staples Singers record (from Earle's most recent album, Washington Square Serenade, though Joan is careful not to characterize it as a "gospel" tune.
On two songs, Earle plays the harmonium, an unusual instrument with a curiously unique sound: "Henry Russell's Last Words" by Diana Jones (a true account based on an American mining disaster); and Austin, Texas stalwart Eliza Gilkyson's "Requiem," from her 2005 album, Paradise Hotel. "Requiem" is one of two Gilkyson songs on Day After Tomorrow, along with "Rose Of Sharon" (from Eliza's Redemption Road of 1997). "A little gem," says Joan, "such a sweet song. If I didn't know otherwise, I would have just assumed that it was an old English folk song."
Earle assembled a first-rate core of Music City "A-Team" players to accompany Joan, each one a headliner in his own right: respected singer-songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Tim O'Brien (who shows up on mandolin, fiddle, and bouzouki) and Darrell Scott (guitars, dobro, banjolin, bouzouki), who frequently appear on each other's records; bassist extraordinaire Viktor Krauss; Nashville elder statesman Kenny Malone on drums and percussion; and an occasional jingle of tambourine by the album's veteran recording engineer Ray Kennedy (Steve Earle's long-time producer).
Guest appearances are limited to two singers on Day After Tomorrow. Ray's wife, Siobhan Kennedy, sings harmony on "Mary," a Christian allegory written by Patty Griffin for her Flaming Red album of 1998. (The song took on a life of its own on the first Concerts for a Landmine Free World benefit album in 2001, and then on Willie Nelson's Songs for Tsunami Relief benefit album in 2005.) UK singer/songwriter Thea Gilmore recorded her harmony vocal in Liverpool for "The Lower Road," one of the songs on her May 2008 album Liejacker, her tenth album in ten years - though the song made its way to Joan months before.