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Joan Baez's 'Dark Chords'

Dark Chords on a Big Guitar
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Dark Chords on a Big Guitar

Joan Baez was in her late teens when her performance at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival and her self-titled debut album of traditional folk songs thrust her into the spotlight. Four decades later, the voice on her new CD — the first from her in six years — is huskier, a bit rougher perhaps, but no less powerful. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Baez about Dark Chords on a Big Guitar.

The album includes songs by younger writers, including Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Ryan Adams, Natalie Merchant and Greg Brown. "This whole CD is really seeing the world through the eyes, for the most part, of people a generation or two past me," Baez says.

She says Earle's "Christmas in Washington" comes closest to her "home base" of 1960s protest songs. "I knew that in this political atmosphere that we're living in now, I had to sing something — not just say something, but sing something from the stage that spoke my heart," she says.

Perhaps lamenting a bygone era of Vietnam-and-civil-rights-era activism that brought about change, the song includes the chorus: "So come back Woody Guthrie, come back to us now."

"It isn't nostalgia for me," Baez says. "It's how are we going to do it... this time around? We actually did it last time. It took a long, long time. Is it going to be possible?"

Baez says she rarely delves into the meanings of the songs written for her, and that she was attracted more by the imagery of the ones on Dark Chords. "I've never analyzed the songs that I've either written or sung," Baez says. Later, she adds: "I don't ask anybody what they meant. Maybe I'm afraid they don't know either."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.