This Week In Zoe News #12: More Quiet

Argh…borked the numbering for several weeks 🙂 3 months of updates!

Not much at all this week. There’s a new Whistlevideo (for Joe Henry’s “Civil War”). I need to see it again before I get it, I think. It’s not having the punch that “The President Sang Amazing Grace” had, but no surprise.

Grace Birnstengel for nextavenue:

The allotted final project, Whistle Down the Wind, is Baez’s first record since 2008’s Day After TomorrowWhistle Down the Wind is a collection of interpretations of songs by Tom Waits, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Josh Ritter and others. Baez told The Times it’s partially in response to the present moment, politically and otherwise — an example being her cover of Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace” about the 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, S.C. An eight-month-long world tour will accompany the release;

Kevin Bryan for Messanger Newspapers:

The contents find her searching for a glimmer of hope in troubled times as this protest singer par excellence tackles songs penned by luminaries such as Tom Waits and Mary Chapin Carpenter, although the undisputed stand-out track is “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” Zoe Mulford’s stunning reflection on the tragic 2015 shootings in Charleston, South Carolina.

Ostrava (via Google Translate):

American singer-songwriter Zoe Mulford then composed the song The President Sang Amazing Grace on the expression of admiration for Obama’s peaceful forgiveness. “No words could express what had to be said. So, that day, the president was singing Amazing Grace, “Joan Baez sounds like a commendation to meditation, and it’s not hard to think that the stronger song we’ve been hearing from her for years.

Update: Folk DJ Charts

Zoe doesn’t appear on the March charts, but Whistle is tied for number 1 album and “President” is the number 1 song (with 26 plays).


This Week In Zoe News #11: The Quiet (Maybe?) After the Storm

This week things did start to quiet down. I’m sure there will be more events that trigger news, but the video boomlet has died down. Still stuff to look at!

Interview of Jeff Scher

Steven Heller did the interview for Print Magazing and it’s worth a read!

I added the portraits of the victims, who are only described as a group in the song, because I felt they needed to be there as real life (well, watercolor and pastel portraits) individuals. I’ve been corresponding with Zoe Mulford who wrote the song and she was very pleased to see them there. It was something that pictures did powerfully and would have required thousands of words for the song.

I don’t know about that last bit per se, but I do love the portraits.

Reviews and Reactions

You Hear That

Joan Baez’s latest was waiting for me in one of the Easter baskets hidden for my daughter to find, and I went ahead and started spinning it this morning. “The President Sang Amazing Grace” was playing when I made it to work, and I had a hard time leaving the car. It’s a really gripping and direct tune (written by Zoe Mulford), and Baez’s performance reminds me a little of her rendition of Bob Dylan’s “With God On Our Side” in how faithfully it renders the song’s sturdy structure. Maybe this is a leap, but both illustrate for me how you tend to cling to something solid when you’re shaken, physically or emotionally.

Mass Commons

Joan Baez has been doing this for over 60 years—playing and singing songs of conscience, hope and witness, faithful to the truth as she’s known and lived it, raising her beautiful voice to summon the better angels of our nature.

Hear what she does with Zoe Mulford’s memorialization of one of the more striking moments in recent American political history: President Obama breaking into song during his eulogy for the nine martyrs of Mother Emanuel.

Harry Vogal for Bird’s Eye (via Google Translate):

That is the beauty of such a performance that lies ahead; the anticipation … But at the same time it gives me the opportunity to listen carefully to the songs of the new CD. Although I think that almost all songs from the new CD are great, Zoe Mulford wrote ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ and I think it stands out. Zoe Mulford wrote this song on the occasion of the shooting in a church in Charlotte, North Carolina on June 17, 2015. Joan Baez himself says about her choice for this song: ‘I was driving when I heard’ The President Sang Amazing Grace ‘, and I had to pull over to make sure I heard whose song it was because I knew I had to sing it ‘.Despite the fact that I have heard the song several times, the text still touches me; what good that Joan Baez at the time had her car radio on, otherwise all would never have known!

When I was checking out last night who Zoe Mulford really is, I was very surprised. Beautiful songs; beautiful performances! When I heard her own version of this song, I was even more surprised. It is difficult for me to choose between both artists. Joan Baez’s CD is already in my collection, but if I run into Zoe Mulford’s, I will probably not leave um.

Stephen Deusner for The Bluegrass Situation (not so much on “President”; worth it for the discussion of Whistle):

Baez speaks through the songs of other writers, bending them to the present moment or finding new implications buried in the lyrics and melodies. There are two Tom Waits character studies, odes to personal stubbornness, whose melodies and sentiments fit so well with Baez’s delivery that you’d think he wrote them specifically for her. She covers Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang ‘Amazing Grace,’” about President Obama’s impromptu performance of an old Sacred Harp hymn at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Josh Ritter’s “Silver Blade” sounds like a response to the traditional ballad “Silver Dagger,” which has haunted Baez’s set lists for half-a-century.

Odds and ends

Metafilter has a [nice thread[(

There’s a (banal) Song Facts page for “President”!

I found this cute:


Oh, and I had to squee the shit out of the fact that DORIS EGAN tweeted about “The President Sang Amazing Grace”. Egan wrote the Ivory trilogy (you can borrow it from the Open Library) which is amazing and you must read it now so you, too, can mourn with Zoe and me that there are no more books.



YouTube Views

I issued my first take down notice for a YouTube video! Some new user was building a channel by reuploading and copy and pasting, including the video I took of Zoe. t took a few days, but it’s gone.

I’m only going to tabulate views for the various “President” variants. We know it’s crushing! When new official videos come out, it would be interesting to track them.

Hmm! I did’t post the YouTube views last week. (Last week was a big job.)

The Official video “only” gained about 50,000 views last week. Still!

Video Date Uploaded 23/03/18 30/3/2018 6/4/2018
The President Sang Amazing Grace (Album) (Baez) Mar 2, 2018 20,052 23,993 26,666
The President Sang Amazing Grace (Live) (Zoe) Jan 16, 2017 15,085 17,657 19,054
Small Brown Birds Album Version Jan 27, 2017 6,281 6,644 6,876
Baez performance Mar 12, 2018 9,500 15,081 19,442
Official Baez Video Mar 27, 2018 128,082 186,112

Here’s a video of Joan singing “President” in St John’s Church in Edinburgh with an organ accompaniment!

This Week In Zoe News #10: Amazing Video!

I thought this was going to be a quiet week, indeed, the start of many quiet weeks. But then, Joan Baez released, via the Atlantic, her first music video for Whistle Down the Wind. The song just happened to be “The President Sang Amazing Grace. So there’s news!

The Video

The video is amazing:

It is animated, though predominantly of painted stills (sometimes in the process of being painted). There are some significant stretches of “full” animation (of Obama and of doves flying at the end). The general shape (esp the portraits of the slain) is in the space of what I imagined a video would be like, though the execution is far far beyond what I could have hoped for. Zoe loves it and also finds that it is just what she could have hoped for.

Jeff Scher is going to give us one of the paintings. He’s a mensch as well as a super talented painter and filmmaker.

Emily Buder for The Atlantic:

“I was driving when I heard ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace,’” Joan Baez told The Atlantic, “and I had to pull over to make sure I heard whose song it was because I knew I had to sing it.” The 77-year-old folk legend included the song in her final album, Whistle Down The Wind, released in early March. Originally written and performed by Zoe Mulford following the 2015 mass shooting in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, Baez’s rendition of “The President Sang Amazing Grace” has been animated in a powerful new video by Jeff Scher, premiering on The Atlantic today.

Jon Blistein for Rolling Stone:

Singer-songwriter Zoe Mulford wrote “The President Sang Amazing Grace” not long after the 2015 mass shooting. Baez was compelled to record her own version after hearing Mulford’s on the radio. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Baez said, “I heard that song and I just pulled over. It’s so expressive of my thoughts and feelings, which are pretty fucking gloomy, but she did it in such a beautiful way that’s as dark as it is beautiful.”

The best part is that this has gotten it out to some relatives of the slain and they like the song and video. That is huge for both Zoe and me.

Caitlin Byrd for The Post and Courier

The Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother died at Emanuel, saw the video Tuesday night after a friend from seminary sent it to her.

Risher describes herself as someone who feels emotions in big ways, but said she did not cry when she watched the video.

“This time, there were no tears. It was just a beating of my heart and pride,” she said by phone. “It was just something, this feeling, that settled right there in my heart knowing that people are not forgetting them.”

Her mother, Ethel Lance, was Emanuel’s sexton and a devoted lifelong member of the church.

Since the tragedy, Risher has been outspoken about the nation’s gun laws as one of the national spokespersons for the grassroots advocacy groups Everytown and Moms Demand Gun Sense.

At the heart of everything she does is her mother.

“I talk to Momma a lot and tell her all the wonderful creations for them. I pray I will get the opportunity to thank Joan Baez in person,” Risher told The Post and Courier.


Jeremey Paxman interviewed Baez. They discussed “The President of Amazing Grace” (starting around 18 minutes in).

Paxman is an awful interviewer. Consider his questioning about nonviolence (14 minutes). He should know the literature, but he doesn’t. (I don’t blame Baez for not knowing…she’s a practitioner, not a theorist.) Try not to cringe at all his creepiness about being in love with her.

Tweets, Blog Posts, Discussion, and the like

The comment that gave me the most food for thought was a blog post:

If you’d asked me the rather odd question, “What is the greatest song you know that’s about the performance of some other song?”, up until recently I’d have said, “It’s Eric Bogle’s ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,’ of course.”

But I may have found its match for power and impact.

It never occurred to me to put “The President Sang Amazing Grace” in the category of “Songs about the performance of some other song”. But of course it’s a category! And I guess there need to be a specific other song (so “Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly” doesn’t cut it).

Chart Data tweets:

I’m not sure which chart this is. On the Billboard top 200, Whistle is down to 181. I imagine it will drop off this week unless the videos give it a big boost. Which is possible!

A choir performed “President!”!

The video gave “President” some visability in Democratic activst circles such as Democratic Underground, Crooks and Liars, and Daily Kos. Still no love from LGM!

Rev. Risher tweeted about it. She is one of the most important listeners!

There are a ton of Tweets about the video. I might try messing with the Twitter API to quantify it.

Facebook posts are so much harder to share, but here’s Baez’s post about the video. It has (to date) 2.2k reactions, 1,233 Shares, and 133 comments, including some daft ones (did you know that Obama bombed 2 million people TO DEATH?!?!). The Atlantic’s post had 10k reactions, 3000 shares, and 262 comments. My favorite comment from that thread:

Jordan Rijen ”Amazing Grace, trust me it’s amazing, I certainly know what amazing is, ok? How sweet the sound, I know the best sounds. That saved a wretch like me, but I’m not really a wretch, ok, I’ve known many many wretches, some really bad wretches believe me, and I’m not one of them, ok?”

The Rolling Stone post had 19k reactions, 561 shares, and 64 comments. It also had more crudely negative comments (dominated by positive, of course).

Zoe’s repost…got 37 reactions, 22 shares, and 8 comments. That’s a top result for us!

Reggie Harris’s post is all graciousness. Reggie encouraged Zoe to record the song and his support made a big difference in her confidence to go forward with it on Small Brown Birds. Reggie is awesome in all ways!

Some personal thoughts to friends and fans reacting on social media.

  • I think it’s great when you share Zoe’s version and try to direct attention to her. You rock! Don’t get upset when people are confused or mistaken about it. Believe me, in general the attribution is clear and most welcome. People will be mistaken! Or spell Zoe’s name wrong! (I’ve seen “Zoe Milford”.) We value that you care.
  • Sending them to like Zoe’s Facebook page or buy an album would be welcomed!
  • People will not like the song. Some will really hate it because it’s about Obama (though not only about Obama!) and it’s not critical of him. This isn’t surprising and I’ll write more about it. But, unless you enjoy flame wars on social media (and I do not judge if that’s your thing), it’s probably better to ignore those. Discussion is unlikely to do anything positive. That’s just the nature of things. Some people like it only because it says nice things about Obama (independently of the awesomeness of the song itself). That’s also going to happen and is what it is.
  • That some people close to the slain like the song is a Big Deal. Let’s be glad about that!

This Week In Zoe News #9: Chart Action

Really, the big news this week is that Whistle Down the Wind went from 104 to 88 on the Billboard top 200. It’s somewhat unusual, I gather, for an album to go up that way! Yay!  We also get some hints at sales numbers (in the low 10s of 1000s).

Chart Stuff

Keith Caulfield for Billboard:

— Joan Baez, Whistle Down the Wind – No. 104 — The singer returns to the Billboard 200 chart for the first time in nearly 10 years, with her highest charting effort in over 40 years, as Whistle Down the Wind bows at No. 104 with 7,000 units. It’s her first new album since Day After Tomorrow, which was released in September of 2008 and debuted and peaked at No. 128.

Whistle Down the Wind is Baez’s highest charting set since 1977’s Blowin’ Away reached No. 54 on the Aug. 6, 1977-dated list.

Whistle moves up the Billboard top 200 from 104 to 88! It stays at 5th on Americana

On UK Americana, it’s down to 4th from 2nd. (It dropped off the UK top 100 from 47th.)

Chart Data Tweet gives some concrete(?) numbers:

US pure album sales: #18 @joancbaez, Whistle Down the Wind 7,270 (13,761 total).

The iTunes data is mixed but generally good.

The highest rank anywhere was that #8 in Germany.

Album Reviews

Geoffrey Himes for Paste:

The album also includes contributions from the relatively obscure Anohni (aka Antony Hegarty), Tim Eriksen and Zoe Mulford.

Mulford wrote “The President Sang Amazing Grace” about alt-rightist Dylann Roof’s murder of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., and about Barack Obama’s eulogy at their funeral. “I was driving somewhere when I heard that song,” Baez says, “and I had to pull over to make sure I heard whose song it was, because I knew I had to sing it. It sounds trite, but I don’t choose a song; a song chooses me.”

Josh Hurst:

She trusts the warmth and sadness of these songs to shine through, and they do. Baez sings with too much affection for any of these songs to lapse into cynicism, and too much weariness for any of them to sound like celebration. And so she is caught between this mutilated world and another, better one she can’t quite imagine; she’ll cling to this until she can’t, and then she’ll let go. In the meantime, Baez leaves us with a Zoe Mulford song called “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” set in the wake of the Charleston church shooting: “But no words could say what must be said/ For all the living and the dead/ So on that day and in that place/ The President sang Amazing Grace.” To sing in the face of sorrow is an amazing grace, indeed; a tender mercy that only a broken world can allow.

Bruce Elder for Sydney Morning Herald:

There is one huge problem: on this record Baez has chosen songs to suit her activism and enthusiasms, not her voice. Thus there are two songs each by Tom Waits and Josh Ritter, and single offerings from Eliza Gilkyson, Anohni, Joe Henry, Mary Chapin Carpenter (her The Things We Are Made Of is untypically mediocre for one so gifted), Tim Eriksen and Zoe Mulford (a tear-inducing song titled The President Sang Amazing Grace, recalling Obama singing at the Charleston church where nine worshippers were gunned down). The result is not a bad album but, with more sympathetic vocal material, it could have been so much better.

Tony Hiller for The Australian:

In between are powerful renditions of Zoe Mulford and Eliza Gilkyson’s evocative anti-gun violence and social justice anthems, The President Sang Amazing Grace and The Great Correction.

Wyatt May for Roots Magazine:

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.

Concert Reviews

Paul Rhodes for the York Press:

The President Sang Amazing Grace, a highlight from her new Whistling Down The Wind album, was also a key moment on stage – a sombre, striking reflection on gun crime.

Jim Gilchrist for The Scotsman:

Hope and defiance never lost out, though, with Dylan’s Times They are a-Changin’ preceding The President Sang Amazing Grace, Zoe Mulford’s response to the Charleston church shooting (with additional applause for the composer, who was present). [ed: Yes! we were there!]


CultureHUB :

Your album Whistle Down The Wind is your first since 2008’s Day After Tomorrow, was there anything in particular that triggered your decision to record this – or was it a long-time coming?

It was heading towards the Fare Thee Well tour and I was thinking ‘whoops’ I need to do, and I wanted to do, another album for the ten years before it. Unless I was really triggered to do this album, then I wasn’t going to do it. Then all of a sudden it became very high on the list of things to do. So, my assistant, my manager, and friends just start digging, and you know a couple of those songs that were like miracles, I mean another world. The track, ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’, I just happened to hear on the radio by this young woman songwriter.

Random bits

Amazon France:

5,0 sur 5 étoilesBelles chansons mélancoliques
Par Patrickle 22 mars 2018
Format: CD|Achat vérifié
J’ai beaucoup aimé la chanson The President sang Amazing Grace.

Le CD contient un livret avec les paroles des chansons.

YouTube Views

The Whistleversion of “The President Sang Amazing Grace” continues to gain views at a nice clip while the others have slowed down. The prelease version of “Whistle Down the Wind” crushes everything!

Video Date Uploaded 04/03/18 07/03/18 09/03/18 16/03/18 23/03/18
Whole Album Mar 2, 2018 7,634 Gone
Whistle Down the Wind Mar 2, 2018 609 1,621 2,390 6,864 9,541
Be of Good Heart Mar 2, 2018 860 1,757 2,206 5,017 7,760
Another World Mar 2, 2018 275 675 886 2,297 3,288
Civil War Mar 2, 2018 360 688 871 2,078 2,972
The Things That We Are Made Of Mar 2, 2018 358 837 1,123 2,838 4,156
The President Sang Amazing Grace Mar 2, 2018 3,564 6,084 8,088 15,112 20,052
Silver Blade Mar 2, 2018 352 775 994 2,499 3,572
Last Leaf Mar 2, 2018 265 653 823 1,948 2,735
The Great Correction Mar 2, 2018 238 565 727 1,714 2,361
I Wish the Wars Were All Over Mar 2, 2018 326 706 936 2,236 2,991
The President Sang Amazing Grace (Live) Jan 16, 2017 11,594 12,554 12,841 14,113 15,085
Joan Baez en carte blanche : “The president sang amazing grace” Feb 28, 2018 Didn’t Track 4,721 5,027 6,478 7,181
Le live : Joan Baez chante “Last Leaf” – C Ă Vous – 20/02/2018 Feb 28, 2018 Didn’t Track 11,921 12,471 14,386 16,084
Joan Baez en live – Last leaf Feb 20, 2018 Didn’t Track 4,418 4,598 5,364 6,292
Small Brown Birds Album Version Jan 27, 2017 5,423 5,656 5,723 6,133 6,281
Whistle Down the Wind (prerelease) 62,962
Joan Baez performs «The President Sang Amazing Grace» 9,500

Seeing Baez in Edinburgh

Zoe came home and read all the This Week in Zoe Newses and decided she couldn’t wait until May to see Baez in concert. So we’re in Edinburgh with our comped tickets and backstage aftershow passes. There was snow!

Update: They put the spotlight on Zoe and had her stand up! People wrote her notes and thanked her. Here’s Zoe nervously waiting to go backstage.

It was awesome! Zoe got two, really long, hugs and I got one short one!

This Week In Zoe News #8: CBS Sunday News!

Ack! This will go up by the hair of my chinny chinny chin! Yeek!

Things are settling down. There’s some new reviews, but the big event was a segment on CBS News Sunday morning that played a bit of “The President Sang Amazing Grace”. That drove a lot of action!

Well, that’s one big event. The other big one is that Zoe is back in Manchester! Yay! We’re going up to Edinburgh to see (and meet) Baez this weekend.

Key quote: fRoots calls Zoe an “undersung songwriter”. So true!


CBS News Sunday Morning (starts at 3:06)

“Some of the songs on your new album are certainly politically tinged.”

“Tainted!” she laughed.

Songs like Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace” — reflecting on President Obama’s surprising eulogy after the 2015 Charleston church shooting:

“The President came to speak some words
and the cameras rolled and the nation heard.
But no words could say what must be said,
for all the living and the dead.
So on that day and in that place
the president sang ‘Amazing Grace.’”

There’s also a pretty big New York Times profile of Baez. No Zoe mention, but Rhiannon got a nice quote:

Her commitment certainly remains a model for the generations that have followed. “For anybody interested in social justice, she is a great beacon,” said the singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens in a telephone interview. “It’s very inspiring as a female artist to see how she has done things on her own terms and become a byword for musical activism.”


This week we get some serious chart action. Here’s a summary from
Grateful Web:

Whistle Down The Wind, the highly anticipated new album from Joan Baez, debuts this week at #18 on Billboard’s Top Current Albums chart and #4 on the Americana/Folk Albums chart—Baez’s strongest chart position since 1975’s Diamonds & Rust. The album is also finding success internationally debuting at #47 in the U.K., #36 in France, #6 in Sweden and #8 in Germany.

In the UK, she seems to have [peaked at] 31( on all albums before dropping off this week. In Americana, she’s at 4, down from 2.

Whistle Down the Wind was also 104 on the Billboard top 200.

On the Folk DJ list, Whistle was 22th in Feb, which, considering it wasn’t even released then, is pretty good! Small Brown Birds was at 54.

After the CBS segment, there was a burst of buying Baez on iTunes which pushed “President” up to 13 on the folk chart for a while. All Baez dropped off that chart as of this writing.

Album Reviews

Fabrizio Zampa for Spettacoli e Cultura (via Google Translate):

Let’s move on to The President Sang Amazing Grace , which tells of when, after the 1995 massacre in Charleston, South Carolina (where the twenty-one-year-old Dylann Storm Roof killed nine African Americans in the church, including the Reverend and Democratic Senator Clementa Pinckney ), President Obama was at the forefront of Pinckney’s funeral and sang with the church choir Amazing Grace, famous Christian hymn written in the 18th century by Englishman John Newton. It was one of the many moments in which Obama, without predicting that Donald Trump would arrive, continued his battle against the weapons, and the Englishman Zoe Mulford wrote a song that told that day. «It’s a small song that won me over immediately, both for the story that it tells, and for the memory of an extraordinary moment – says Baez. – When I first heard it on the radio, I had to stop the car because I had started crying, and when I decided to put it on the record and tried the chords on the guitar, I kept crying. In the recording studio, I tried to keep my cry out, I looked at my musicians and I said, boys, let’s go to church. Yup,

Here, this short story would be enough to understand that the eternal girl Joan is still today a fundamental figure of that author music that really means something. Several musicians play with her, including her son Gabe Harris on percussion, but the ability of producer Joe Henry has made it a simple, elegant, without forcing album, in which there is only her first piano, and even if the vocality Baez is no longer that of a time we do not even notice, because his presence and his charisma go completely beyond this and any other kind of considerations. Listen to this record, it is a beautiful journey through time not only for those who lived those years but especially for those who have not lived them, that young audience for which Baez is just a piece of history.

Jonathan Frahm for The Young Folks:

Most prevalently, perhaps, is her take on Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace”. Sitting patiently at the center of the album as its sixth track, Baez evokes the same heartful power that she has since the start singing these sorts of songs.

Clint Rhodes for the Herald-Standard:

From the gripping “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” written by Zoe Mulford about the tragic 2015 Charleston church shootings to Joe Henry’s “Civil War” detailing how aggression and violence ultimately divides and separates, Baez once again delivers songs that make us think, feel and act.

Ed Jupp for God is in the Vine:

Perhaps the most poignant song on the record is her cover of Zoe Mulford’s ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace.’ The song references the horrific event in 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, when a man opened fire on a prayer meeting at a church meeting, killing nine. With Trump in the White House, and American gun laws proving stubborn to change, it resonates deeply, after yet more school shootings. This connects so well with what Baez has done throughout her entire career – she has used her voice to campaign for the oppressed, marching with Martin Luther King for the Civil Rights movement, campaigning against the Vietnam War, and supporting the Dixie Chicks when they faced a hideous backlash against their stance during the second world war.

Daan Sindelka for Blues Magazine (Google translated from Dutch):

From Civil War – written by her producer Joe Henry – and Zoe Mulfords The President Sang Amazing Grace can be assured with certainty that there is hidden criticism against the current American president Donald Trump.

Sylvain Cormier for Le Devoir

Ce voile dans la voix, ce registre retréci, ces mélodies servies plus bas, cette fragilité qu’on ne lui connaissait pas, moi, ça me plaît. Pour tout dire, ça m’atteint plus que la perfection presque intouchable de son chant d’antan. Il y a une telle tendresse dans cette proximité : Joan Baez a-t-elle été plus émouvante que dans ses relectures de Tom Waits (la chanson-titre et Last Leaf), de Zoe Mulford (l’essentielle The President Sang Amazing Grace), de Mary Chapin Carpenter (The Things that We Are Made Of) ?

Mike Alexander for stuff

At 77, Baez has a gracious soulfulness about her, whether she’s re-interpreting Tom Waits’ Whistle Down The Wind and Last Leaf, Josh Ritter’s gorgeous acoustic ballad Silver Blade or taking a relatively, unknown song such as Zoe Mulford’s haunting The President Sang Amazing Grace (written in the aftermath of the 2015 racially-incited Charleston, South Carolina, shooting in which nine people attending church were gunned down), that powerfully sums up the racial, social and political tensions in the US – something Baez has been doing for six decades.

Lou Montesano for Elmore Magazine

The song that hits most powerfully is Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” a reference to the 2015 Charleston church shooting: “A young man came to a house of prayer, they did not ask what brought him there. He was not friend, he was not kin, but they opened the door and let him in.” Listening to those words in light of the Parkland school shooting and the debate over gun rights being led so eloquently by high school students is a reminder of youthful passion taking the lead where adults have failed.

David Kidman for fRoots:

The whole collection sounds tailor-made for Baez, and specific highlights come with Tim Eriksen’s I Wish The Wars Were All Over and the disc’s “significant discovery”, the powerful The President Sang Amazing Graceby undersung songwriter Zoë[sic] Mulford.

Concert Reviews

Clive Davis for The Times

Her political idealism certainly seems undimmed. The Times They Are a-Changin’ was dedicated to the school pupils campaigning for a change in America’s gun laws. And if she didn’t mention her country’s president by name — his name, one senses, has become the ultimate swear word — the fact that Barack Obama was the subject of Zoe Mulford’s ballad, The President Sang Amazing Grace, was an eloquent verdict on his successor. Populists, though, would argue that Baez’s homily on refugees and immigrants, delivered between songs, is a gift to the Steve Bannons of this world: “We have so much, they have so little. Let ’em in”

Kirsten Rawlins for the Express and Star

And with that, Joan launched into a spine-tingling, empowering solo rendition of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changin’, showing the songs evergreen validity and timeless power; despite the fact it was released back in 1964.

Another song used in this way by Joan was Zoe Mulford’s The President Sang Amazing Grace, written about President Obama’s visit to the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, following the mass shooting in 2015 – a song which very nearly moved me to tears.


The views keep growing slowly. The Baez version of “President” took over Zoe’s live version.

Video Date Uploaded 04/03/18 07/03/18 09/03/18 16/03/18
Whole Album Mar 2, 2018 7,634 Gone
Whistle Down the Wind Mar 2, 2018 609 1,621 2,390 6,864
Be of Good Heart Mar 2, 2018 860 1,757 2,206 5,017
Another World Mar 2, 2018 275 675 886 2,297
Civil War Mar 2, 2018 360 688 871 2,078
The Things That We Are Made Of Mar 2, 2018 358 837 1,123 2,838
The President Sang Amazing Grace Mar 2, 2018 3,564 6,084 8,088 15,112
Silver Blade Mar 2, 2018 352 775 994 2,499
Last Leaf Mar 2, 2018 265 653 823 1,948
The Great Correction Mar 2, 2018 238 565 727 1,714
I Wish the Wars Were All Over Mar 2, 2018 326 706 936 2,236
The President Sang Amazing Grace (Live) Jan 16, 2017 11,594 12,554 12,841 14,113
Joan Baez en carte blanche : “The president sang amazing grace” Feb 28, 2018 Didn’t Track 4,721 5,027 6,478
Le live : Joan Baez chante “Last Leaf” – C Ă Vous – 20/02/2018 Feb 28, 2018 Didn’t Track 11,921 12,471 14,386
Joan Baez en live – Last leaf Feb 20, 2018 Didn’t Track 4,418 4,598 5,364
Small Brown Birds Album Version Jan 27, 2017 5,423 5,656 5,723 6,133

This Week In Zoe News #7.3: Week 1—Odds and Ends

Some reviews came through after yesterday’s posts and there was some chart news I missed!


17 Seconds

Perhaps the most poignant song on the record is her cover of Zoe Mulford’s ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace.’ The song references the horrific event in 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, when a man opened fire on a prayer meeting at a church meeting, killing nine. With Trump in the White House, and American gun laws proving stubborn to change, it resonates deeply, after yet more school shootings. This connects so well with what Baez has done throughout her entire career – she has used her voice to campaign for the oppressed, marching with Martin Luther King for the Civil Rights movement, campaigning against the Vietnam War, and supporting the Dixie Chicks when they faced a hideous backlash against their stance during the second world war.

David Honigmann for The Financial Times

The 45th President is never referred to directly, but a couple of the songs are pointedly chosen. A version of Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace” refers back to the eulogy at the funeral of Clementa Pinckney, murdered along with eight other churchgoers in Charleston in 2015, during which President Obama broke into the old anti-slavery hymn. Baez narrates the story of the murders and the funeral in steely low gospel tones, stretching out the vowels and underlining with her trademark vibrato. “We argued where to lay the blame/On one man’s hate or a nation’s shame.”

There’s another mention in the Guardian (with a link to “President”) by Jude Rogers:

Finally, another 60s icon returns: Joan Baez with Whistle Down the Wind, sounding huskier, angrier, as she sings about civil rights and uncivil deaths. With its teeth exposed, folk really roars.

The Pitchfork review by Stephen M. Deusner should technically be in next week’s round up, but I couldn’t hold it back. They build the whole review around “President” (the first three paragraphs…three out of five!!) and even compare with Zoe’s version! It delves deeper too:

In June 2015, just days after a white gunman shot and killed nine African-American worshipers in Charleston, South Carolina, President Obama delivered a eulogy for the slain Rev. Clementa Pinckney that included an a cappella performance of “Amazing Grace.” It was a remarkable moment for many reasons, not least because it acknowledged that certain horrors and hopes were beyond his powers as a public speaker. That moment demanded a song. Two years later, the folk singer Zoe Mulford wrote her own song about that day and called it “The President Sang Amazing Grace.” It’s a matter-of-fact lyric, as though reluctant to do anything but record history: “The President came to speak some words/And the cameras rolled and the nation heard.”

It is, in other words, exactly the kind of song Joan Baez might have sung 50 years ago. And so, when Baez covers “The President Sang Amazing Grace” on her first album since 2008, Whistle Down the Wind, it feels right. In its subject matter as well as in its funereal pace, it recalls Richard Fariña’s “Birmingham Sunday,” written after another act of white supremacist terror, the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Baez included that song on her 1964 album 5, and the extent to which her voice has changed over the last half-century only underscores the extent to which the times have not. Her voice now sounds graver, more deeply grooved by age, with a slight tremble as she recounts the violence in Charleston and its aftermath. Her version is less pretty than Mulford’s, less settled, less communal. When Obama sang “Amazing Grace,” he was joined by a grieving congregation. When Baez sings about that moment, she sounds lonely, her optimism measured at best.

Having lived through decades of protest-song history, Baez knows how to gauge the state of the world and how to pitch her music to reflect it. She chooses songs that convey a sense of ambivalence about our country’s fate, as though she must now work to muster something resembling hope. That struggle is what makes this album so compelling and ultimately so rewarding. Working with producer Joe Henry, who has helmed similar late-career albums by Solomon Burke, Mose Allison, and Allen Toussaint, Baez crafts a lo-fi acoustic palette that makes room for the occasional flubbed note and sounds all the more immediate and intimate for it. She sings Anohni’s “Another World” to an insistent thump against the strings of her guitar, which could be a racing heart or a ticking clock. As with the 2008 original, it’s the details that put the song across and make it more than just a farewell: “I’m gonna miss the sea, I’m gonna miss the snow.” Rarely has Baez ventured so far beyond the folk and roots world to find material, but the song suits her remarkably well as both an ecological warning and as a personal consideration of mortality.

This got a fair number of immediate retweets.


Official Charts has an Americana chart with Whistle debuting at number 2!

And according to VVN Music there’s Yet Another Chart and Whistle is doing very well:

Joan Baez is at her best spot on the British Albums chart in 43 years as Whistle Down the Wind starts at 47. Her last trip that high came in 1975 when Diamonds and Rust went to 28. Three of Baez’ first four albums went top ten in England between 1960 and 1965.

Ah! It’s the Official Charts all albums. Apparently, Whistle entered at 47 (though now is at 31). So we have a chance of beating Diamonds and Rust!