Having recorded Steve Earle's "Christmas in Washington" on her last studio album, 2003's Dark Chords on a Big Guitar, and his "Jerusalem" on her 2005 live album, Bowery Songs, and toured with him in between, Joan Baez has turned to Earle as the producer of her 24th studio album, Day After Tomorrow; he also contributes three of the ten songs, two of them, "God Is God" and "I Am a Wanderer," specially written. Earle seems to have taken as his assignment the goal of creating a modern Joan Baez album that is in the tradition of her great albums of the 1960s. First, he assembled a group of acoustic musicians in Nashville, anchored by multi-instrumental string players Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott (a rhythm section of Viktor Krauss and Kenny Malone is sometimes present also), and then he and Baez cherry-picked recent songs from contemporary singer/songwriters working in the spirit of those Baez covered earlier in her career, including Elvis Costello, Eliza Gilkyson, Patty Griffin, and Tom Waits. In making those choices, they looked to material that evoked Baez's folk past. For example, as Baez herself says of Gilkyson's "Rose of Sharon," "If I didn't know otherwise, I would have just assumed that it was an old English folk song." "Scarlet Tide," written by Costello and T Bone Burnett for the soundtrack to the 2003 Civil War film Cold Mountain, in which it was sung by Alison Krauss, naturally sounds like a 19th century American folk song. True to Baez's longtime political commitments, it addresses war, as does Waits' and wife Kathleen Brennan's "Day After Tomorrow," which Baez sings with only her own guitar accompaniment, while Diana Jones' "Henry Russell's Last Words" tells the true story of a mining disaster. Earle's "Jericho Road," first heard on his Washington Square Serenade album, is presented a cappella with handclaps and background vocals by Earle, Scott, and O'Brien, sounding just like the sort of spiritual Baez used to adapt back in the '60s. At 67, Baez betrays some vocal aging, but she uses it wisely to impart extra feeling into what is often a downbeat collection of quality songs, and Earle has succeeded in his attempt not to reinvent her, but to re-create her sound and message in contemporary terms.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann