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Joni Mitchell's music still matters on Chalk Mark Print-ready version

by Calvin Gilbert
Baton Rouge Advocate
April 1, 1988
Original article: PDF

JONI MITCHELL
Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm
Geffen

With guest vocals by the likes of Billy Idol, Tom Petty, Benjamin Orr, Don Henley and Willie Nelson, Chalk Mark In a Rain Storm is being heralded as Joni Mitchell's most accessible album in years.

It is accessible, perhaps, from the standpoint of the contemporary instrumentation and production. The music, however, is about as uncompromising as anything she's done short of her tribute to Charles Mingus.

As a singer and songwriter, Joni Mitchell is probably the only female who's made any consistently important contributions to modern popular music. That's not meant to be a sexist statement. It's just hard to come up with many others whose artistry matches hers. Oh yes, there are some great singers around, but in the realm of the singer-songwriter, Carole King has been irratic [sic], at best, and Laura Nyro has been in semi-retirement.

All of this means that any new Joni Mitchell album is something to look forward to with excitement and anxiousness.

To describe the new album as accessible is somehow to equate accessibility with mindlessness. That's not the case, of course, and any record that includes native American Indian chants as the background vocal or a remake of the Sons of the Pioneers' "Cool Water" might be considered a bit out of the musical mainstream.

Mitchell reworks "Cool Water," the Bob Nolan standard, with her distinctive guitar style and lyrical exchanges with Nelson. By interpreting the songs, she moves away from the literal meaning of the original.

Mitchell's songwriting is again fascinating, as her lyrics take on military themes and take a few jabs at the yuppie mentality. Some of the music was written with her husband, bassist Larry Klein. One of the highlights is "A Bird That Whistles", an adaptation of "Corrina, Corrina," which features only Mitchell, Klein and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. An entire album by this trio could have great possibilities.

In light of Mitchell's musical depth, the ultimate judgment of the album doesn't come immediately. It's something you arrive at after hearing - living with - the work over a period of months.

The initial listenings indicate that it's yet another fantastic album by someone who remains in control of her art.

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