Reviewed on this page:
Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) - Joni Mitchell - Clouds - Ladies Of The Canyon - Blue - For The Roses - Court And Spark - Miles Of Aisles - The Hissing Of Summer
Lawns - Hejira - Don Juan's
Reckless Daughter - Mingus - Shadows and Light - Wild Things Run
Fast - Dog Eat Dog - Chalk Mark
In A Rain Storm - Night Ride Home - Turbulent Indigo - Taming
The Tiger - Both Sides Now - Travelogue - Shine
A rock performer in the broad sense of the term, Joni Mitchell has
ranged from folk to pop-rock to jazz in a three-decade career. What
remains constant is her ear for off-kilter melody, her talent for
adventurous arrangements, and above all her ability to write lyrics
which, though often intensely personal, have a universal appeal,
and are rich in relevant detail, engaging both the emotions and the
intellect. I could blather on like this for days, but I'll rein it
in here. On to the discs... (DBW)
Those unfamiliar with her might mistake Joni for a mere folk singer, or perhaps a jazz-fusion opportunist. It's really more complicated than that. After several years of singing in small clubs and occasionally having her songs recorded by then-more prominent folkies like Judy Collins, Mitchell got the attention of David Crosby, who proceeded to land a her a record contract and promote her endlessly with his high-powered L.A. acquaintances. This led to affairs with Crosby, Nash, and James Taylor, and to
appearances by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on various Mitchell records. Despite thereby being much more closely tied to the West Coast soft-rock scene than any other "folkie," Joni maintained a completely independent musical identity through this period.
In the 70s, Joni nearly became a full-blown jazz artist, collaborating first with the L.A. Express, and later with Jaco Pastorius, Larry Carlton, and Charles Mingus. Once again, however, her distinctive and highly personal musical vision persisted and even flourished, conceding almost nothing to the jazz-rock fusion movement that was then all the rage. And one problem you'll find with this page is that Joni was so solid throughout the 70s that we've rated album after album as really good (4 stars) to downright brilliant (5 stars).
Mitchell's later work is more debatable. Her 80s records were victims of the era's kitschy hi-tech production values, and we're split on her most recent albums, with Wilson thinking she's fully recaptured her glory years but me arguing that she's lost her voice and poetic spark. (JA)
She went out on tour in 1998, and we were there: the review on our concerts page is a ripping good read.
There's a marvelous Joni Mitchell
site with complete discography, interviews, news, and even some
of her paintings. (DBW)
I should add that this may be the single most comprehensive fan site in existence, with endless magazine and newspaper clippings, photos, lyrics, tour dates, even lists of other artists' versions of her songs. (JA)
Joni Mitchell is one of rock music's premiere songwriters. Here's a list of some Mitchell cover tunes that we discuss elsewhere on the site. (JA)
Try Another: Jonesing For Joni
No artist is really similar to Mitchell, though many have imitated one phrase or another of her career. But if you're looking for somebody in the same neighborhood, here are some starting points.
Some other folks who are sort of similar in one way or another: James Taylor, Leonard Cohen, Jill Sobule, Tori Amos, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, Tracy Chapman, Sarah McLachlan, Jane Siberry and Caetano Veloso.
- Carole King is even better when it comes to writing melodies, though she doesn't have the heft.
- Janis Ian has heft, in spades, though she's not as outstanding a singer or arranger.
- Cris Williamson isn't as ambitious, but she's the most underrated of the 70s singer-songwriters.
- Silvio Rodriguez is actually a pretty good comparison, particularly his 80s folk-fusion period.
- Rickie Lee Jones is perhaps the most self-conscious Joni imitator, at least for the first few albums.
- Joan Armatrading has covered a lot of stylistic territory over the years, as Mitchell did.
- Erykah Badu reminds me of Mitchell in terms of attitude and mix of skills, though her music doesn't sound similar at all.
Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) (rel. 2020)
Sometimes the universe throws you a bone, my friends. A few years ago it seemed Mitchell was not long for this world, but not only is she still among us, she has dropped her longstanding opposition to revisiting unreleased material. The first of what I hope will be many volumes is confined to recordings made prior to her first album, during which time she wrote and performed many songs that were never attempted in the studio. Many of these were known to fans through bootlegged radio appearances ("Go Tell The Drummer Man," "Dr. Junk"), while others are demos of tunes that may never have been played live ("Sad Winds Blowin'," "Day After Day"). Though the 5-album set is generous, it's not exhaustive: every trace of first husband Chuck Mitchell has been excised, and most performances are abridged even where recordings of the entire show are known to exist (I'm assuming that's to avoid having fifteen versions of "The Circle Game" and "Urge For Going"). The first thing that strikes you is how polished and precise a performer she was as early as the age of 19 ("House Of The Rising Sun" - the entire first disc is her versions of folk standards). Once her compositions start popping up, it's impossible to ignore how varied her forgotten songs are - though she does have several vigorous strummers along the lines of "Big Yellow Taxi" and lots of songs about her heart being full and hollow ("Free Darling" is both) - and how powerful: For every slight tune like "Gift Of The Magi," which just retells the familiar story, there are about six haunting melodies like "Gemini Twin" and "Here Today And Gone Tomorrow." Lastly, her lengthy stage patter (designed to give her time to change from one weird tuning to another) is 10% nervous chuckling and 90% great entertainment. (DBW)
Joni Mitchell (1968)
- Already a well-known songwriter with hits for Judy Collins and Tom
Rush, she declined to record any of her familiar songs on her debut
album, instead releasing sparely arranged, folky songs that either
hit the mark dead on ("Cactus Tree") or wander off into obscurity
("The Pirate of Penance"). (DBW)
- One of her most musically challenging efforts, with a bunch of complex, moody, ultra-serious tunes that are hard to follow ("Nathan La Franeer") and often go on too long ("The Dawntreader")
But everything that makes her early period so great is here to be heard: incredibly clear and powerful vocals; elaborate acoustic guitar picking; heavy lyrics with tons of metaphors; and a totally pure art-for-art's-sake attitude ("I Had A King").
"Cactus Tree" is really memorable, the flamenco-like "Penance" has a chilling melody and a fascinating second vocal part, there are no embarassments, and although the minor works wouldn't have made it onto Blue, they're enjoyable (the lush, romantic "Michael From Mountains"; "Sisotowbell Lane"; the oddly-timed "Song To A Seagull").
Everything's solo with guitar apart from the pop-flavored "Night In The City," which gets Simon & Garfunkel-like bass, harpsichord-like piano, and counterpoint harmonies.
Also known as Song To A Seagull, this was "produced" by David Crosby, meaning that he got her into the studio and let her loose. (JA)
- Even less instrumentation here, almost everything just acoustic
guitar and singing--showcasing a bunch of brilliant songs ("That
Song About The Midway," "I Don't Know Where I Stand") and her own
versions of the Judy Collins-recorded "Chelsea Morning" (Chelsea
Clinton was named for Judy's version, not Joni's) and "Both Sides,
Now." The opening "Tin Angel" was produced by Paul Rothchild; otherwise, no producer's credit appeared on this or any subsequent Joni Mitchell record for over a decade.
Engineered by Henry Lewy.(DBW)
- The acoustic guitar-and-solo vocal shtick gets tiresome, despite the outstanding songwriting. I personally favor the creepier stuff, and there's a lot of it ("The Gallery," a great put-down of womanizers everywhere; "Songs To Aging Children Come"). However, an unlistenable a capella piece ("The Fiddle And The Drum") almost single-handedly ruins the record.(JA)
Ladies Of The Canyon (1970)
- Here she ventured into more complex arrangements, using woodwinds,
backup vocalists and a cello. The brilliant songs ("For Free," "Big
Yellow Taxi," her version of "The Circle Game") are buried among
songs that don't come up to her usual high standard, from older
material ("Conversation") to new ("The Arrangement")--she covers
territory from social commentary to slice-of-life descriptive to
confessional, but without the authority she displays elsewhere in
her (pardon the expression) oeuvre.
Lewy's credit here was "engineered and advised by" - most likely his role here and throughout the coming decade was something akin to
associate producer or co-producer (it seems clear that Joni was the actual producer, though she never took that credit).
- Okay, so it's got problems. I don't even enjoy "Circle Game," with its intentionally off-key backing chorus; and Joni's slowed-down electric piano version of "Woodstock" just plain sucks. But the rest of the record is really more solid than you might think after a first listen. (JA)
Also in 1970, Mitchell played a benefit concert with James Taylor and Phil Ochs, released in 2009 as Amchitka.
- The album that launched the confessional singer-songwriter craze,
but don't hold that against it. She says she was in an "emotionally
transparent" state when she made this album - along with John
Lennon's Plastic Ono Band it's as genuine, as honest and
unmannered an album as was ever made. Almost every song here is a
classic: "The Last Time I Saw Richard," "A Case Of You,"
"California," "All I Want."
- That's right. Plus it rocks. Wilson forgot to mention my personal favorite, the eerie, doom-laden "This Flight Tonight." The production here alternates between acoustic guitar- and piano-dominated arrangements, a step up from the previous records but still more primitive than the following ones. Players include Steve Stills ("Carey"), Sneeky Pete Kleinow, Russ Kunkel, and then-current flame James Taylor. (JA)
For The Roses (1972)
- More brilliant songwriting together with elegant pop-rock
arrangements, this record has two themes: the difficulties of
romance and the contradictions involved in the life of an artist
("The Judgment Of The Moon And Stars," the title track). (DBW)
- More obscure both lyrically and musically than the earlier LP's, this is not for beginners. Some of the chord progressions are mind-boggling, and except for "You Turn Me On I'm A Radio" (with Nash on harmonica), there's hardly a nod towards commercial considerations (that's a compliment). Heavier use of piano and woodwinds ("Judgement Of...") points in the new direction that Joni was about to go in. To my ears, the theme is not so much about romance per se as about James Taylor being an insufferable jerk... (JA)
Court And Spark (1974)
- Her commercial highpoint, as her arranging skills and confidence in
her voice caught up with her songwriting. Classic songs and guest
stars abound ("Help Me," "Peoples Parties," "Raised On Robbery,"
- Not to mention "Free Man In Paris." This was Joni's first real effort at serious orchestral arrangements and a full-band, jazz-oriented sound, and her best. "Help Me" was her biggest hit ever, and it may be her one song most remembered by the general public.
But the whole album extraordinarily well-written, especially the wrenching love-song "Car On A Hill," the complexly arranged suite "Down To You," and the picaresque "Just Like This Train." Plus the record ends on a great gag: an up-tempo cover of the humorous jazz tune "Twisted," with a few snippets of dialogue courtesy of Cheech & Chong, and Joni's voice zooming madly around the rapid-fire melody. (JA)
Miles of Aisles (1974)
- One of the few essential live rock albums, this collection finds
Mitchell in dynamic confident voice, backed by the LA Express,
reinterpreting her back catalogue. Standout rearrangements include
"Rainy Night House," "Big Yellow Taxi," and "Both Sides, Now." Also
includes "Love Or Money," which was never released in studio form. (DBW)
- Joni's catalogue was so deep at this point that she could afford to blow off all the hits from a freshly-released five-star record (Court And Spark, represented here by only one track in 18) and still leave you gasping in awe. Strangely, she's better on the numerous solo performances than when backed by the L.A. Express, which did do a marvelous job on studio records of the period: for example, they transform "Carey" into a distractingly light-weight stab at reggae. But then there's the grooving "Woodstock," much better here than the solo version on Ladies Of The Canyon. On one CD, this is a bargain you'd be foolish to pass up. (JA)
The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (1975)
- The critics' backlash started in earnest with this record. The
music is more beautifully realized than ever, and the lyrics range
from incredible to incredibly obscure (at least for me). The best
songs, though, are pop perfection: "In France They Kiss On Main
Street," "Don't Interrupt The Sorrow," "Harry's House/Centerpiece." (DBW)
- The backlash was all the more amazing because there's nothing really wrong with this record: every track is good, and it's more stylistically broad and daring than Court And Spark while continuing in the same jazz-pop fusion style. Joni somehow pulls off unique and initially off-putting experiments like "The Jungle Line," driven by authentic African drums; "Shades Of Scarlett Conquering," with a creepy string arrangement; and "Shadows And Light," with a deeply strange melody and bizarre vocal harmonies. Much of the rest features a full band, usually derived from the L.A. Express and augmented by a classy horn section. Guests include Crosby, Nash, and James Taylor (all on "In France They Kiss"), and Robben Ford contributes some extraordinary jazz-fusion guitar parts. (JA)
- Complete shift in mood for these songs documenting some kind of
spiritual/emotional journey: mostly just accompanied by guitar,
bass (featuring Jaco Pastorius--unlike his own records, here the
artist is in control of his technique rather than the other way
around) and drums. Every song here is a winner; it's probably my favorite of all her albums, but since it's so consistent in mood and timbre, the uninitiated would probably be better off getting their feet wet with Court And Spark or Blue. (DBW)
- Yes, every song is a winner; and yes, every song has much the same mellow jazzy-acoustic sound. You'll probably love it like Wilson and I both do, but you may find that it puts you to sleep. The shortest track is 4:15 and the production is tasteful but punchless, with the more chipper stuff merely reprising Summer Lawns ("Song For Sharon"). "Black Crow" rocks, though, and the lengthy lyrics are excellent - Joni's themes of restless travel and doomed love are emphasized and augmented here with quiet broodings on mortality.
Despite the shift in mood, the backing players are often from the L.A. Express, as before, including Larry Carlton on guitar; guests include Bobbye Hall on percussion, and Neil Young on harmonica (!). (JA)
Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (1977)
- The beginning and end of the record are as good as anything she's
ever done--masterful lyrics and great tunes like the title track,
"Talk To Me," "Off Night Back Street"; the middle section features
an extended musical meditation ("Paprika Plains"), an atmospheric
number that doesn't quite come across ("Otis and Marlena") and an
unsuccessful experiment in Latin American rhythms ("Tenth World"). On the clever "Dreamland," there's only percussion and voices -- Joni singing the loping melody while Chaka Khan wails behind her. (DBW)
- I'm not impressed; originally a double LP, Don Juan's stretches out just ten tunes to a one hour running time, with the dreamy, complexly orchestrated "Paprika Plains" being the main offender - it's extraordinarily ambitious but just plain dull. She defuses the recycled "Jericho" and "Dreamland," lets Pastorius sprawl all over the place, and underuses Guerin.
Only the Hejira-like numbers that Wilson mentioned reignite her usual creative spark, and they're still far from her best.
Not the relative disaster that the next album became, but it doesn't rank with her preceding string of masterpieces. Carlton and Weather Report members Alex Acuña and Wayne Shorter crop up a few times; Don Felder and J. D. Souther sing on "Off Night Backstreet." (JA)
- Composed with jazz composer/bassist/boxer Charles Mingus and mostly
recorded after his death, this is a heartfelt project, but one
where, for once, Mitchell's reach exceeded her grasp. Outside of the
dynamite "Dry Cleaner From Des Moines," and her performance of the
Mingus standard "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" (with lyrics by Mitchell),
there's not much to recommend it. (DBW)
- The lousy tracks are tediously "cool" slow jazz numbers ("A Chair In The Sky"; "Sweet Sucker Dance") that turn into languid, incoherent jams. Some of the blame rests with Jaco's spacey contributions on bass. And with numerous, truly annoying dialogue interludes, the record sums up to only a half-dozen real tunes in the first place. (JA)
Shadows And Light (1980)
The flip side of Miles Of Aisles, these live versions add little
or nothing to their studio cousins ("Amelia," "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"). The backing band is exemplified
by bland fusionmeister Pat Metheny, whose noodling, self-indulgent solo is unbearable; even musical director Jaco is
uninspired, raining meaningless note cascades over everything. There was a lot wrong with the late 70s besides disco,
and the proof is right here. If you care, the one-CD version cuts out a few tracks, including Alias's solo (one of the
best things about the original two-LP set) - I think the full two-CD version was only released in Japan. (DBW)
Wild Things Run Fast (1982)
After threatening retirement, Mitchell returned with her most
rockin' album yet, using 23-year old Larry Klein as her co-producer (the first time
she'd used a producer since her first album) to get that modern
sound. Musically it's fun, with loud guitars (title track), punchy keyboards, and even a horn section on a joyous cover of Lieber/Stoller's "You're So Square (Baby I Don't Care)," originally a hit for Elvis.
And there are some great songs: the confessional, nostalgic "Chinese Cafe/Unchained Melody"; the upbeat declaration "Underneath The Streetlight"; the frenetic, layered "You Dream Flat Tires."
But when the lyrics are subpar - the obvious "Be Cool"; the awkward Biblical paraphrase "Love" - the album ends up sounding like the run-of-the-mill early 80s rock product.
Dog Eat Dog (1985)
- Here she enlisted New Wave synth man Thomas Dolby to give her an
even more contemporary sound. But the tunes, both musically and
lyrically, cover themes she'd already done better before ("Good Friends," "Impossible Dreamer"). Her angry
attacks on the Reagan Republican hegemony are not terribly
enlightening (title track); the only truly excellent song here is the haunting
ode to nicotine addiction "Smokin' (Empty, Try Another)."
The same year, Mitchell contributed vocals to all-star Canadian charity single "Tears Are Not
Enough," though I can't pick her out on the record.
- The preachy, heavy-handed lyrics are an embarassing error in judgement ("Tax Free"; the unlistenable "Ethiopia"), and the production is a sheer annoyance. She even rips off her earlier melodies (title track). Hence, only a completist would want to waste money on the record, despite all the little hints of Joni's songwriting genius and magical 70s jazz-fusion formula. Guests include Don Henley and James Taylor on backup vocals, and Weather Report vets Wayne Shorter and Alex Acuña. (JA)
Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm (1988)
- Taking a break from experimenting with musical styles, she returns
to carefully-crafted, midtempo (mostly) pop-rock arrangements. This time around she brings in a bunch of co-lead vocalists:
Billy Idol, Tom Petty,
Willie Nelson (on "Cool Water," perhaps the most bizarre and least successful coupling), Peter Gabriel.
Wendy & Lisa add prominent backing vocals to "The Tea Leaf Prophecy," perhaps the album's strongest song. As on the previous album, her lyrics are often rather obvious: the anti-rat race "Number One," anti-consumerist "The Reoccuring Dream"
and pro-Native American "Lakota."
One exception is the character sketch "The Beat Of Black Wings." The closing standard "Corrina Corrina" (also recorded by Bob Dylan) is pleasant but slight, and that basically describes the whole album. (DBW)
- It's less offensive than the preceding record and closer to her
70s style; but there's way too much electronic ooze, with those grating
80s drums and keyboards, and too many lowest-common-denominator
embarassments like "Dancin' Clown" (with Idol and Petty). Only "Snakes
And Ladders" (with Henley) really works; "Corrina Corrina" just
emphasizes how over-cooked the rest is. Co-produced by Klein; the rest
of the band is Manu Katché (drums) and Michael Landau (guitar),
and other guests include Short and Cars bassist Benjamin Orr, here on
backup vocals. (JA)
Night Ride Home (1991)
- The arangements don't break new ground, but here she dispenses with
the guest performers and shifts the focus back to her voice
(deepened and richened by years of cigarettes) and great songs: the relationship meta-analysis "Come In From The Cold"; the title track, a plain ol' love song; the chilling stalker ode "Two Grey
- Joni's voice now reaches something like an entire half-octave of new low notes; it's amazing, but of course it's painful to hear her fall short of her earlier high notes as well ("Two Grey Rooms"). The production is close to late 70s records like Hejira, but the material is far more accessible, with great harmony vocals, occasional Brazilian percussion, diversely topical lyrics, interesting sound effects (sirens, animal noises), and hummable tunes like the reverse-sexist "The Only Joy In Town." Wayne Shorter contributes a few sax parts; he's the only guest other than a couple of backup vocalists (one of them nearly ruins "Nothing Can Be Done"). (JA)
Turbulent Indigo (1994)
- Mitchell completes her comeback here, with a collection of
unrelentingly melancholy songs that equal the best of her earlier
work. The dominant themes of her work receive new treatments here:
duality ("Borderline"), artists and their relationship to their
public (the title song), failed romance ("Last Chance Lost") and a
more recent concern, the oppression of women ("Magdalene
Laundries," "Not To Blame"). Mitchell swears that "Not To Blame" isn't about former lover Jackson Browne at all, against all appearances (it's about a famous guy who's accused of beating his girlfriend and who drove his wife to suicide). There's one unusual cover: "How Do You Stop?" by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight, originally recorded by James Brown.
As with Hejira, I'm rating Indigo slightly lower than I otherwise would because its narrow stylistic focus may make it difficult to digest for those unfortunate people who are not yet acquainted with her music. (DBW)
- I like the record, but it's far from a "comeback." The music is exactly the same ethereal acoustic guitar/jazzy fretless bass/light Latin percussion groove that she's been in for years. It's tasteful and well-performed, but rarely inventive. And her lyrics are just as pale a reflection of the glory days, often frustratingly clumsy ("Sex Kills") or pretentious ("The Magdalene Laundries"). For example, the title track tries to do for Van Gogh what "Judgment Of The Moon And Stars" did for Beethoven, but it's trite and obvious. Plus her version of "Yvette In English" is even more lifeless than David Crosby's. Wayner Shorter is back here and adds loads of drab, spacey light jazz soprano sax. (JA)
Taming The Tiger (1998)
- After all these years, an album sounding like nothing that came before
it: Mitchell plays a new computerized electric guitar on every track, using
it to create distorted orchestral effects on "Harlem In Havana" and the
rip-roaring "Lead Balloon," easily the noisiest, most raucous tune she's
recorded to date. While many tracks feature jazz drummer Brian Blade,
half have no drummer at all, creating a synth atmosphere that's vaguely
New Age (the 1942 chestnut "My Best To You"). Meanwhile, her voice has
lost nearly all its power: thin and breathy, restricted to the middle of
her former range - I wanted to cry listening to it. A remake of "Man
From Mars," which was done in conscious imitation of her 70s style on
the Grace Of My Heart soundtrack, is
almost ragged here. The two familiar elements are Wayne Shorter's
ornamental soprano sax, and Mitchell's pin-sharp, darkly humorous
lyrics. Another the-world's-just-goin'-to-hell-these-days-ain't-it
lament, "No Apologies," sounds odd beside the many hearty paeans to
love ("Love Puts On A New Face," "Face Lift"). Many of the melodies
sound vaguely familiar, but are carried by masterful lyrics (the title
track, one more attack on the record business; the skittish love song
"Stay In Touch"). A hidden instrumental track, "Tiger Bones" is
pretty but at four minutes rather insubstantial. For
the first time Mitchell's performances aren't up to the demands of her
- Just the same old same old she's been cranking out since Mingus.
When she's (slightly) upbeat and jazzy ("Harlem In Havana"; "The Crazy Cries Of Love"), she's kind of fun.
But more often she gets totally bogged down with sluggish, synth-slathered, mournful mood pieces that are not only incoherent but monotonous ("Man From Mars"; "No Apologies"; "Stay In Touch"; "Face Lift") - it's like she can't be bothered to write a real tune any more.
On the plus side, the dreamy title track (reprised as "Tiger Bones") has a lulling refrain; her grab-bag of synth noises is slightly intriguing (the waltzing "My Best To You"); and there's a fine, surprisingly mean-spirited rocker that blows everything else away ("Lead Balloon").
So far short of her classic records it's downright shocking.
Self-produced and largely self-performed on guitar, keyboards, and even bass. Klein, Shorter, pedal steel player Greg Leisz, and Blade show up a lot and contribute little; Michael Landau plays guitar on one track. (JA)
Both Sides Now (2000)
Jeez, Joni - if you had to do a standards album, couldn't you have done it before you completely lost your voice? Mitchell's
backed by a huge orchestra, arranged and conducted by Vince Mendoza, performing standard fare like "Stormy Weather" along
with remakes of her own "A Case Of You" and the title track. Problem number one is that tobacco-ravaged voice, which
restricts her to half-speaking and overusing vibrato. Problem number
two is Mendoza's overbearing and obvious Romantic arrangements. Almost every track opens with a minute-long instrumental
section that adds precisely nothing, though to be fair, the tracks don't
improve once Mitchell starts singing. The only area that's not problematic is the song selection: she stays away from
frequently done tunes (except for Rodgers and Hart's clever "I Wish I Were In Love Again"), and some
of the obscure numbers deserved to be resurrected (Bill Carey and Carl Fischer's "You've Changed," Evans/Kent/Mann's "Don't
Go To Strangers"). A few solos are added by Shorter, Herbie Hancock and trumpeter Mark Isham, but even they can't find anything interesting to
communicate. Produced by Mitchell and Klein.
Up until this one, every Mitchell album had its moments, and even the weakest brimmed over with artistic
integrity and determination.
For most of her career Mitchell has been claiming each new album would be her last, and I'm starting to hope she means it.
A double CD of remakes along the same orchestrated lines as Both Sides Now, this seems to be Mitchell presenting her case that
she shouldn't be in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame: she makes the rockers toothless ("You Dream Flat Tires"), drops the catchy
melodies ("For The Roses"), slows everything down to dirge tempo ("The Circle Game"), and emphasizes her most un-rock lyrical influences:
both songs inspired by the Bible ("Love" and "The Sire Of Sorrow"), plus "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" based on the Yeats poem and
the Beethoven character study "Judgement Of The Moon And Stars." Every criticism of Both Sides Now also applies here except one -
the instrumental openings have disappeared - and this time none of the material is new to her fans, most noticeably "Woodstock," which
she'd already released in three very different incarnations, all far more satisfying. That said, the performance
of "The Dawntreader" is quite good, with the orchestration bringing out subtleties unheard in the 1968 guitar-and-voice version while
Mitchell's weary voice better suits the material, and the arrangement of "Hejira" - with drawn-out strings opposite rousing percussion - is
unusual. Produced by Mitchell and Klein; Mendoza, Shorter and Hancock are also back.
Mitchell's first album of new material in nine years, which is a cause for rejoicing until you actually start listening to the thing.
Apart from two tunes retelling movie plots ("Hana"; "Night Of The Iguana") and a shapeless instrumental ("One Week Last Summer"), all the songs are morose laments about man's greed ruining the planet ("If I Had A Heart"; "Bad Dreams").
Mitchell has been sounding the eco-alarm since near the beginning of her career - a point she drives home by re-recording "Big Yellow Taxi" - but she's never sounded so haughty, so humorless, so hectoring.
"This Place" is the one spot where Mitchell pulls these concerns into something meaningful: otherwise she just manages a few good one-liners ("Strong And Wrong") during a long, unrewarding slog (the seven-minute title track).
The production is a mixed blessing: she's back to a normal acoustic guitar, and also plays piano on several tracks, with Klein and Blade backing. But then she can't leave well enough alone, piling on overdubs of synth imitating an orchestra, redundant pedal steel by Leisz and far too much soprano sax from Bob Sheppard (filling Shorter's usual role).
Need a night ride home?