Music review: Joan Baez, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

The standing ovation from a packed Usher Hall wasn't just for a sterling performance: it was heartfelt acknowledgment of six decades of rattling national and international consciences. The effortlessly floating quality that once characterised her upper register may have roughened slightly but, at 77, Joan Baez still challenges a fractured world with warmth and persuasive authority.

Joan Baez: "an elegant torchbearer for human decency."
Joan Baez: "an elegant torchbearer for human decency."

An Evening with Joan Baez, Usher Hall, Edinburgh *****

Accompanied by her son, percussionist Gabe Harris, and multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, she combined recent repertoire with such seasoned favourites as the inevitable and warmly-received Dylan-era numbers – It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Farewell Angelina and Baez’s own lyrical reproach to the wayward bard, Diamonds and Rust.

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From her latest album, Whistle Down the Wind, there was the Waits-Brennan title track, as well as Anohni’s Another World, lamenting current affairs Baez described with wry understatement as “a little tenuous”. Hope and defiance never lost out, though, with Dylan’s Times They are a-Changin’ preceding The President Sang Amazing Grace, Zoe Mulford’s response to the Charleston church shooting (with additional applause for the composer, who was present).

The racy Appalachian blast of Darlin’ Cory, driven by Powell’s banjo thrum, gained additional holler from vocalist Grace Stumberg, who also brought a suitably Joplin-esque feistiness, duetting in Me and Bobby McGee.

This may be Baez’s last formal tour but, as she left us with a muscularly a cappella Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, one suspected that, in these most troubled times, this wasn’t the last time we’ll hear from this elegant torchbearer for human decency.