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JONI MITCHELL Shine Hear Music HMCD30457 (2007)

Joni Mitchell

For an album that deals with the big themes in life including war, corporate hegemony, ecological destruction etc, I'm probably not the first person to spot the irony of a plaintive lyrical poet like Joni Mitchell signing with the Starbucks sponsored Hear Music label.

Perhaps the deal is best taken in the spirit of 'it's better to get your music heard' than not at all. And in the context of a an artist offering her first new recording for nine years, 'Shine' is the kind of mature, reflective and analytical post modern jazz album that seems well suited to a label that now also boasts McCartney, Alanis Morissette and Bob Dylan.

From the opening disguised waltz like instrumental 'One Week Last Summer', on which Joni's piano lines are perfectly in sync with Bob Sheppard's alto sax, it is apparent that the musical core of this album is an understated take on sophisticated late night jazz. What pushes the project into something far more interesting is the delicious interrelationship of words, complex melodies and Joni's supreme phrasing, that she delivers in a world weary husky voice.

The following 'This Place' sets the lyrical tone for the album, being both a wistful, deeply ironic take on her immediate west coast environment, although it is of course applicable to the world as a whole. But rather than simply preach, Joni lays out the planet's ills in a way that is open ended, as if to lyrically play out the consequences of how we all live today. The theme is continued on the piano led 'If I Had A Heart' which employs a surprisingly country tinged jazzy feel with lyrical pessimism that is only redressed on my favourite track the musically complex 'Hana'.

The opening layered tic-toc percussion and the angular vocal and parallel instrumental lines are heavily reminiscent of Weather Report, with shades of Little Feat and represent the perfect meeting of Joni's jazz fusion sensibilities with her role as a poet. And while Bob Sheppard is magisterial on soprano sax, it is Joni's peerless phrasing that elevates the piece above the limits of late night sophisticated fusion and makes this cut alongside the meandering title track, the two standout album tracks.

If there is a downside it is perhaps that the words seem to shape the melodies as exemplified on the piano/horn arrangement of 'Bad Dreams Are Good' on which the core line 'You have no sense of consequence' infiltrates the whole album. Given the overall subject matter there's little room for expansive instrumentation, but the arrangements are a delight as on an unlikely lyrically reworked reprise of 'Big Yellow Taxi' which is as light as the whole album gets.

And yet there is an inner sense of balance that finds expression through the twists and turns of her lyrics with the closing 'If' restoring a sense of optimism, and once again demonstrating that Joni is one of the most underrated arrangers of our time.


Review by Pete Feenstra

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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