Drawing, like 2003’s Dark Chords, on an array of contemporary songwriters, Baez’s 24th studio album focuses on wartime and mortality – appropriate for a woman with a lifetime’s political activism behind her. Tom Waits provides the title track, written as a US soldier in Iraq, and Baez delivers it with due gravitas, backed by her own elegantly picked guitar.
Elsewhere Steve Earle cooks up sprightly acoustic settings from a house band in which mandolinist Tim O’Brien shines, and provides a pair of new songs, duetting on the opener, “God is God” (Baez, remember, is from a Quaker family). Though the mood here is gentle, more mordant themes run through numbers by Thea Gilmore, Eliza Gilkyson and Diana Jones. Baez’s worn voice retains its majesty, and also the sanctimony that has set so many teeth on edge over the years.