As the album reviews trailed off, I haven’t been tracking the Whistle Down the Wind news coverage as obsessively. But I still keep a weather eye out and there have been some Zoe mentions in the concert reviews.
There was an extensive review/ interview by Paul Liberatore:
Baez thinks it’s the best album she’s ever done.
What elevates it above the 30-some albums she’s made in her long career is “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” a hymn-like lament that singer-songwriter Zoe Mulford wrote to mourn the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, church shootings, a hate crime that took the lives of nine African-American worshipers gunned down by a white supremacist during a prayer service.
“This album would have been a really nice collection of folk songs, but that song just takes it to another level,” she says over tea made from mint she picked in her garden.
She’s been invited to sing it at commemoration events that the City of Charleston and the Emanuel AME Church are planning in mid-June to honor the families of those killed, the shooting survivors and the church congregation. She hopes to squeeze it in after the Paris dates and before she has to return to Europe in late July for concerts in Austria and Germany.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do it,” she says, “but I’m going to be there.”
Perhaps the most moving of her recent material, however, was “The President Sang Amazing Grace” about the Charleston church shooting. It pulled the rug from under the feet.
It was a tribute to the new songs, including the angry eco-protest Another World and the heartfelt The President Sang Amazing Grace, a modern civil rights song echoing the struggles of the 1960s – recited rather than sung – , that they didn’t pale in that exalted company.
There was one negative mention from the Financial Times:
She also suffered from a tendency to pick songs from the say-what-you-see school of writing. Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace” took the profoundly moving moment of Barack Obama singing at the funeral of one of the Charleston church shooting victims in 2015, and turned it into Hallmark greetings card material: “In Charleston in the month of June / The mourners gathered in a room / The president came to speak some words / And the cameras rolled and the nation heard.” Goodness knows what Baez saw in it, and she couldn’t redeem it.
It’s a weird criticism—what other “say what you see” songs are they referring to? What’s wrong with such songs? How are the quoted lyrics Hallmark greeting card like? Indeed, there’s an internal incoherence as Hallmark greeting cards aren’t reporterlike.
It’s not the only oddity:
If you don’t want earnest, don’t go to see Joan Baez, where earnestness reaches the heights of Baez doing a version of “Imagine” in which she hastily spoke each line before singing it, so the audience knew exactly how to join in.
She did give each line before singing it which is standard for sing alongs, though usually for songs which aren’t as well known. It has nothing at all to do with earnestness.
Given that “President” is by far the most popular and critically acclaimed song on the album, I’d have thought that some reflection of that would be sensible to include. After all, what Joan saw t in was what tons of other people saw in it. So, it’s a bit mysterious.
The Arts Desk:
Baez of course plays guitar, swapping between two custom-model Martins on which she finger picks nimbly, even adding a touch of lead on several numbers, including Zoe Mulford’s exquisite “The President Sang Amazing Grace”.