**** (Four Stars)
"Joni Mitchell says she's not going to write any new songs. To be a singer-songwriter today, she says, she'd have to get hair extensions and hire a choreographer. And she's not going to do that. Instead, what she's done is hire a 70-piece orchestra and a brilliant arranger/conductor named Vince Mendoza. With creative direction from Mitchell's longtime producer and bassist Larry Klein, her songs have been recast in lush settings of strings and woodwinds. The music, in flawless harmony with the influential singer's now lustrously mature voice and the imagistic stories of her songs, makes "Travelogue" a soothing bittersweet wonder. Mendoza, a creative mover between progressive pop and jazz circles for the last few years, arranged strings for Bjork on her "Vespertine" and also worked on bassist Charlie Haden"s "American Beauty" release. Here, he works with songs from throughout Mitchell's career, including "Dawntreader" from her first, quiet folky album, "Song to a Seagull," through later, more sophisticated songs such as "Amelia," "Heijra' and "Sex Kills." There are 22 songs in all on the two discs recorded at George Martin's Air Studios.
Regular Mitchell accomplices such as soprano saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock and drummer Brian Blade also are o hand. Shorter's darting soprano is the album's most expressive voice beyond Mitchell's. The album continually rises to climaxes that are grand yet intimate in songs such as "You Dream Flat Tires," "Refuge of the Roads" and "Sex Kills." Mitchell closes the album with one of her first recorded songs. 19966's "The Circle Game." The pensive take emphasizes the song's delicate balance of innocence and maturity, and the fleeting nature of time in our lives. Like the album, it's aching in its beauty and honesty."