The luminous new album by Joni Mitchell, Shine (Hear Music), has arrived to delight and dazzle fans, old and new. Shine is Mitchell's first studio album of mostly new material ("Big Yellow Taxi" makes a reappearance) since Taming the Tiger, the discs released almost nine years apart to the day.
Time has not dulled her razor-sharp insight, and the inclusion of "Big Yellow Taxi (2007)" is the musical equivalent of "I told you so." They did pave paradise and put up a parking lot, after all. At once nostalgic and forward-thinking, Shine features an endless array of the elements that we have come to love and expect from the goddess Joni. Her piano and guitar work, among other instrumentation, are simply flawless. The opening track, the instrumental "One Week Last Summer," sounds like it would have fit in on any of her albums from For the Roses forward. The alto sax on a few tracks may not belong to Wayne Shorter, but Bob Sheppard does a brilliant job of providing the brass. Pedal steel legend Greg Leisz, who also played on Tiger, returns, along with Mitchell's longtime drummer, jazz star Brian Blade. Old friend James Taylor is even on board.
Resplendent in its rage, Shine also sheds new light on reoccurring themes in Mitchell's work and world. She has been singing about crows for many years, and they appear in two songs here, "This Place" and "Strong and Wrong." As unavoidable and annoying as crows, cell phones also get called out, on both "Bad Dreams" and the title track. As she previously did with a William Butler Yeats poem, Mitchell looks to Yeats' contemporary Rudyard Kipling for inspiration, setting his timely "If" to music. The "if" word plays a major role in the poignant political diatribe "If I Had a Heart," whose chorus "If I had a heart,/I'd cry," is a Mitchell-style comment on our times. She has been incorporating electronic instrumentation into her songs for years, and makes particularly good use of it on "Hana." The combined word-play and infectious rhythm of "Night of the Iguana" make it irresistible. Simply put, Shine is radiant.