Joni Mitchell, "Shine" (Hear Music) 3 stars.
She's already recorded the masterpiece "Blue." Call this Joni Mitchell's "Green" album.
Laced with eco-friendly themes on songs like "Bad Dreams Are Good," Mitchell emerges with a decent if unspectacular set, sparked by typically meticulous song-structure, still steady vocals and adventurous musicianship.
There are few songs here to match her past wonderworks, but "Strong and Wrong," is a politically potent blast at the stubbornness of those ruling the land, pledging their devotion to God while waging war. In one of her best lines, Mitchell simply asks "Where have all the songbirds gone?" likely alluding to her frustrations with a seemingly apathetic generation.
In keeping with the environmental themes of much of the disc, the songwriter also revisits her own "Big Yellow Taxi," offering a refreshing new interpretation of the vintage work that's still plenty relevant decades after it was penned.
Herbie Hancock, "River - The Joni Letters" (Verve) 3 stars.
Call this a love letter from jazz great Herbie Hancock to songwriter supreme Joni Mitchell.
The two, who first worked together many years back on Mitchell's "Mingus" album, have plenty of mutual admiration going on. And with the help of co-producer and Mitchell creative partner Larry Klein, Hancock took some of Mitchell's masterpieces and obscurities on wild musical adventures, while also including a couple of tracks that she did not write, but which significantly influenced her.
By far, the most commercially appealing cut is the brilliant re-working of Mitchell's "Court and Spark," which features Norah Jones on lead vocals, but there are other sublime moments as well. And with a band featuring Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and others, there is no shortage of masterful players to bring life to Mitchell compositions such as the delicate "Both Sides Now," and "River," the latter which features Corinne Bailey Rae on vocals.
Mitchell herself makes an appearance as well, adding her dusky voice to the tasty "Tea Leaf Prophecy," though Leonard Cohen's recitation of "The Jungle Line," is most definitely for hardcore devotees only.