For those who find Joan Baez's icy soprano, righteous politics and self-regard too much to bear, give her another listen. Not to Joan Baez 5 (how many self-titled albums does one folk empress need?), but to her last two studio albums: Dark Chords on a Big Guitar and Day After Tomorrow. As always, these are covers albums, but the interpretations, fueled by major players such as Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott, and enriched by Baez's dropped range (her soprano's now an alto), burn brighter than anything her 50-year career ever intimated. If you can't imagine Queen Joan singing some of the finest compositions of Tom Waits, Steve Earle or Gillian Welch — and owning them — you underestimate her instincts and grace.
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