'Shine' reveals folk singer's older, wiser vocals, world views
Four out of five stars
To the joy of her fans, Joni Mitchell released a new album, "Shine," last week, her first new material in nearly a decade.
Mitchell composed, arranged, played and produced all the music on the album except for guest performances by Bob Sheppard, Greg Leisz, Brian Blade, and Larry Klein, on saxophone, steel guitar, drums and bass, respectively. She also wrote all the lyrics except for the album's final song, "If," which was adapted from the Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name.
The steady march of years and an untold number of cigarettes have reduced Mitchell's once enormous vocal range, but her voice has also mellowed, and she sounds wiser behind the microphone.
The music from the album was performed live with an accompanying dance by the Alberta Ballet, and the album cover and lyric booklet feature pictures from the ballet.
The album opens with "One Week Last Summer," a swirling instrumental piano melody with accompanying saxophone. The seven verses of the song each represent a different day of the week. From the fist chord on, Mitchell sets the mood as hopeful, happy and relaxed.
"This Place," the second track, is the first on which Mitchell's voice is heard. She sings of a beautiful place that she fears will be destroyed. It is an interesting song with typical Mitchell-style acoustic guitar rhythms layered together with sliding steel guitar and clear soprano sax melodies.
The song "Hana," is a 180-degree shift in mood. The atmospheric song is backed throughout by rhythmic percussion and tells the story of Hana, a girl who sees what needs to be done and does it regardless of the difficulties involved.
The album includes a contemporary re-recording of her 1970 classic, "Big Yellow Taxi." The new version is darker than the original and includes sampled accordion. It's interesting to hear her new rendition nearly forty years later, but the song may also serve as a poignant demonstration that Mitchell's voice is not what it used to be.
"Night of the Iguana" is possibly the high point of the CD because it is performed excellently and effortlessly blends together Mitchell's voice and guitar style with percussion and background harmonies.
"Strong and Wrong" and "Shine," the title track, make up another complementary pair of hopeless and hopeful songs. Throughout the album, Mitchell tends to follow songs about suffering and misery with optimistically expectant ones.
All in all, this collection of slightly jazzy, acoustic, adult-alternative ballads is worth listening to for Mitchell fans and those who enjoy her type of music, even if it lacks some of Mitchell's former brilliance.
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