This week, Joan Baez revealed she will be retiring from the road at the end of 2018 . The announcement was accompanied, as these things often are, by an exhaustive list of tour dates and a new single. The song, a cover of Tom Waits’ “Whistle Down the Wind,” will be the title track for her upcoming studio album.
Baez has always been adept at interpreting other people’s music, covering tunes by the likes of The Band, the Beatles and practically making a career of singing Bob Dylan songs (and giving him a career too). Even today, four out of five of her top tracks on Spotify are covers; the great “Diamonds and Rust” is the exception.
The most striking thing about the song is just how deep Baez’s voice has gotten. Okay, it’s still not as deep or as weathered as Waits’, but the high-pitched throttle of her early years is gone. “I can’t do shit in the upper range anymore,” she told Rolling Stone. “I can kind of pop up there and get back down but the notes that I would sing before, nothing like that will ever happen again.”
Her new, earthier sound is ideal for the track, and the single fits in with the farewell theme. The lyrics are filled with Waits’ dreamlike visions of departures and regrets. “I can’t stay here and I’m scared to leave / Just kiss me once and then / I’ll go to hell / I might as well / Be whistlin’ down the wind.” Baez replaces Waits’ piano accompaniment with a simple acoustic guitar arrangement.
The resulting track sounds as if it’s been a regular part of her repertoire for years. If this is indeed the beginning of Baez’s farewell, then she’s at least making her exit from the stage in style.
Click here to listen to more from Joan Baez’s extensive repertoire of covers.