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by Bernard Zuel
Sydney Morning Herald
October 1, 2007

Five years ago Joni Mitchell declared that she was giving up on making music, refusing to have anything to do with the louses she saw running the industry.

Extreme? Special pleading? Cogent and spot on? Whatever your take, it was hard to argue that Mitchell hadn't earned the right to slip away quietly and just paint. More than 20 albums in 35 years, only two maybe I wouldn't happily put on right now, and another six or seven I could never live without. She had nothing more to prove.

Then an approach to contribute more music to a ballet set to her songs triggered her muse after a 10-year hiatus. A growing frustration, if not outrage, at the destruction of the planet also fired her soul.

"We're busy wasting our time on this fairy tale war, when nobody's fighting for God's creation," she told Rolling Stone. "I haven't written in 10 years, and what's coming out of me is all sociological and theological complaint," she said elsewhere.

Not surprisingly then, Shine is an angry album, her most consistently direct attack on greed, ignorance and political and religious bastardry since 1985's Dog Eat Dog.

"You cannot be trusted/Do you even know you're lying/You take with such entitlement/You give bad attitude/You have no grace/No empathy," she sings in Bad Dreams. In Strong and Wrong she mocks the egos of powerful men and asks, "Is that what God is for?/Just a rabbit's foot?/Just a lucky paw/For shock and awe?"

Images of the intersection of nature and man abound, from the empty nets of fishermen in the title track to the bear rummaging in her garbage bin in This Place , from the sky on fire in If I Had a Heart to the paved-over trees in a re-imagining of her now venerable eco-conscious Big Yellow Taxi.

Yet, if anger is the energy in this machine, the music itself runs with such grace and elegance it can take several passes before you hear and see past the beauty, past the warmth, to the sharp tacks of the lyrics.

At first, piano leads the album, the mood established from the part French romanticism, part '50s West Coast jazz of the instrumental opener, One Week Last Summer. Some of that mood reappears soon after in If I Had a Heart, this time with lap steel guitar draped over the piano like a summer shawl over bare shoulders. And there is a smoke-drifting-to-the-ceiling ambience around the piano and its synth counterpoint in Bad Dreams.

However, Mitchell is not to be so easily confined. Night of the Iguana, with electric guitar pushing itself forward over a loose-limbed bass, is reminiscent of the grooves she explored in the '80s. Hana draws from jazz, without shouting that out, Shine is a step on from the shimmering shapes of 1998's Taming The Tiger and this arrangement of Big Yellow Taxi feels more New Orleans than Laurel Canyon.

Mitchell's voice has recovered some of the register thought lost for good by the late '90s and at all times it's a marvellously caressing sound, so rich in detail that the smallest shift, the most subtle adjustment in intonation speaks volumes. It's a very satisfying album.

 

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