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Bare Necessities   Print

by Ken Tucker
Entertainment Weekly
October 2, 1998

How much do you tell and how do you tell it.

These are the questions of the heart of both Joni Mitchell's Taming the Tiger and Sheryl Crow's The Globe Sessions, collections that otherwise diverge sharply, as their authors pursue their prickly, eccentric, but mutually exclusive obsessions.

Taming the Tiger is Mitchell's first release of new material since 1994's Turbulent Indigo, a Best Pop Album Grammy winner. This was a startlingly unexpected award for a record that had, like any number of Mitchell's immediately previous albums, sold weakly and left nary a dent on the music scene. So I'd be surprised if the encouragement of the Grammy-- combined with the widely reported 1997 reunion of Mitchell with the daughter she'd given up for adoption decades ago--didn't court and spark what is most obvious on Tiger: a renewed interest in openness, in reaching out to a wider audience after years of stubborn insularity.

Mitchell said in a recent interview the the tentatively tender "Stay in Touch" is about getting to know her now grown daughter, Kilauren, and the "Facelift" is an affectionately sardonic response to an argument Joni had with her 86 year old mother. Mitchell hasn't permitted herself such autobiographical freedom in ages, and you can hear the relief in the music, in the way the massed guitars (primarily Mitchell's own, endlessly overdubbed) (guess he doesn't know about the VG-8) surge and swoop with exhilerating abandon, borne aloft by Brian Blade's airy drumming and the periodic flutter of a Wayne Shorter sax fill.

Mitchell invokes William Blake in the title song--her "tiger, tiger burning brightly' is the same avid creature of naked ambition the led Blake to marvel "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" where Blake's "stars threw down their spears," for Mitchell they "chuck down their spears." Like the English mystical poet, Mitchell is an artistic autodidact (?), experimenting with guitar tunings and jazz bohemianism the way Blake did poetic meter and religious iconography.

There are a couple of songs ("No Apologies"; the middle section of "Taming the Tiger") marred by the sort of socio-political commentary the made 1985's Dog Eat Dog so trying, but even on these the music is lush and enveloping. Thirty-one years after getting a record deal, the kid from Saskatoon has found a way to have (as she recently said of Noel Coward), "so much skill and so much to say without being heavy"

 

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