Dark Chords on a Big Guitar
First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2003, Volume 10, #10
Written by John Metzger
For her first album in six years, Joan Baez recorded material written by a broad spectrum of contemporary songwriters from within the alternative country and adult-oriented pop scenes. The idea is an intriguing one, but unfortunately Dark Chords on a Big Guitar doesn’t work nearly as well as it should. For what it’s worth, Baez’s voice has held up remarkably well despite the fact that it’s been 43 years since she released her debut, and her smooth, graceful singing is as warm and refreshing as ever. Regrettably, she doesn’t always succeed in finding the darker edges of songs such as Ryan Adams’ In My Time of Need and Joe Henry’s King’s Highway, nor do her renditions necessarily better those of the original artists. It’s only on a handful of tracks — in particular, an atmospheric cover of Caitlin Cary’s Rosemary Moore; the stinging, brooding ambience of Natalie Merchant’s Motherland; and Steve Earle’s sociopolitical lament Christmas in Washington — that Baez manages to make the songs her own, meaning that Dark Chords on a Big Guitar is more of a curiosity than a vital addition to her catalog.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box