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Mitchell effort flawed but still most welcome   Print

by Martin Bandyke
Detroit Free Press
September 23, 2007

After famously and caustically bidding farewell to the music industry she called a cesspool several years ago, Joni Mitchell has thankfully had a change of heart and released her first album of all new material in close to a decade. Make that almost all new, as "Shine" includes a rerecording of her old classic "Big Yellow Taxi."

After two contractual-obligation compilations of covers, "Both Sides Now" (2000) and "Travelogue" (2002), it's truly a special occasion to hear fresh songs from this musical visionary, even if they're mostly among the saddest and most pessimistic of her career.

Chief among Mitchell's concerns is the fate of planet Earth, and she vividly details its destruction by man in "This Place," "If I Had a Heart" and "Bad Dreams." As valid as her insights are, these songs are not particularly listener-friendly, and that's not just because of the bad news she's delivering. The often claustrophobic, sometimes dated arrangements feature only Mitchell on keyboards and vocals and little in the way of outside guests. The results sometimes sound more like lectures than songs.

But lifting "Shine" out of the doldrums and giving it some measure of desperately needed hope is the lengthy, cautiously optimistic title track, which is followed by something truly special for a closer. That happens to be "If," based on Rudyard Kipling's famous poem. Singing Kipling's inspirational words with calm determination and firm conviction, Mitchell makes this one magical by playing some gorgeous guitar and utilizing longtime collaborator Larry Klein on bass, Brian Blade on drums and Greg Leisz on pedal steel.

The second album released by Hear Music, co-owned by the Starbucks coffee chain, "Shine" will be available at traditional retailers as well as Starbucks, just like Paul McCartney's "Memory Almost Full."

 

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