Backed by an incredibly sharp group of jazz players, Joni Mitchell
has returned from her decade-long musical hiatus with a superb collection of new songs, and a nice tropical island spin on an old classic, "Big Yellow Taxi."
Picking Up Where She Left Off
When Joni Mitchell came on the scene in the late 1960s, she brought with her a candor and poetry that was unmatched at the time and, some would say, still unmatched to this day. Her melodic, symbolic, narrative tunes brought a new literary value to contemporary folk music, and her high, clear soprano became one of the most recognizabele voices in the field.
By the time she decided to walk away from the music industry nearly ten years ago, she had developed an affinity musical experimentation, and was showing a pretty natural gift for blending jazz with folk and pop and other styles of music. So, it's not much of a surprise that her new album, Shine picks up where she left off.
Running Themes, Politics and Topical Tunes
Joni Mitchell Live at Stormy Weather 2002 ConcertPhoto: Robert Mora / Getty Images
Presumably, one of the things that inspired Mitchell to return to music was the political landscape, as many of the songs comment on current affairs. These tunes seem to come from a place less of protest than sadness and exasperation. On "If I Had a Heart,"
she sings about "too many people now, too little land, too much rage and desire...big bombs and barbed wire," ending the song with the repetition of "If I had a heart, I'd cry."
One of the strongest songs is "Hana," a tribute to a fierce, insightful woman who seems to know better than the rest of us how to cope in a world so frought with disaster. "Straighten your back, dig in your heels," Mitchell sings, "don't raise a white flag."
"Bad Dreams" takes a stark look at the way we've treated the planet, sort of a decades-later follow-up to "Big Yellow Taxi." In it, she sings, "The cats are in the flower bed, a red hawk rides the sky / I guess I should be happy just to be alive / but we have poisoned everything."
Shine Has No Misses
Except for the remarkable percussion of Brian Blade
, and some other notable guest spots (James Taylor
on guitar for the title track, for one), Mitchell is playing, singing and producing everything here. If there's any artist you can trust to follow their art in whatever direction it takes them, rather than vice versa, it's Joni Mitchell. Shine
is an excellent testament to her tenacity and integrity as an artist, and her remarkable skill as a poet and musical visionary.
Picking up on the notion of, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine," Mitchell unleashes a touching poetic song that manages to break through the disappointment characterizing the rest of the album and what Mitchell (and many of us) seems to see as an occasional absence of hope in the world. She sings, "Shine on good earth, good air, good water / and a safe place for kids to play / shine when bombs exploding half a mile away ... oh let your little light shine."