Joni Mitchell's new two-disk album, DON JUAN'S RECKLESS DAUGHTER, is not likely to appeal to the "You Light Up My Life" crowd. It may not even appeal to the broader critical and public audience that enjoyed Miss Mitchell's COURT AND SPARK and HEJIRA albums. But these are still a fascinating pair of records.
The reasons some people may hesitate is that Miss Mitchell seems even less concerned here with commercial obviousness and even more self-involved than usual. In that respect the new set is more like her HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS-which seems In retrospect to have been seriously under valued when it came out two years ago -than her other recent disks. But it is still mightily interesting. The interest starts with the cover and inner-sleeve art, designed as usual by Miss Mitchell. The art work contains several motifs: basically flat horizon, doves, a young boy. cartoon balloons and Miss Mitchell in three guises: as a black dandy. a Stevie Nicks-ish blonde and a small girl in Indian costume.
Most of these themes are picked up in the verse. As ever, her principal concerns are love and her own painful efforts to reach deeply into others. Mixed in are memories of her childhood and her continued fascination for black people, with several of the songs skating back and forth between a smoky, sophisticated present and her innocent, dreaming past.
The musical idiom finds Miss Mitchell once again pursuing her interest in jazz and third-world rhythms. On HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS there is some African drumming and here there is a Latin percussion jam. The jazz is more clever and admirable than that which she used to get from Tom Scott, et al., and makes use of several members of Weather Report -above all Jaco Pastorius, who was on "Hejira." There is also a long song called "Paprika Plains," which takes up a whole side and uses a full symphony orchestra in effectively Coplandesque fashion.
Perhaps extensive critical acclaim and chart-topping sales will result from all of this, but what makes it interesting and honorable is that that doesn't really matter. Miss Mitchell has so much force of artistic personality that she brings her musical collaborators into her own style of what might be called folk-jazz. And DON JUAN'S RECKLESS DAUGHTER falls neatly into place as part of her process of self-exploration through records. It's nice that the records sell (even if this should be a relative failure it will still make money for her and her record company). But what's nicer is that she has found a way to make serious musical art and propagate it through the often maligned "music business."