Once she was the epitome of the flower child, with a soaring soprano to match. Today, there isn't a hint of girlish giggle or dewy-eyed optimism left in Joni Mitchell's voice. She's smoked her way into a dusky-throated, world-wise thrush, and seemingly wrung the romantic gush from her art and life (twice married, many more times aligned).
Yes, it's an ideal situation for Mitchell to be contemplating love from "Both Sides Now." And with the set's underlying theme - that romance demands eternal vigiliance from both parties - it's perfectly timed for Valentine's Day gift buying, too.
Named after one of her most famous songs, this mature, knowing overview of romance's (short) ups and long downward spirals is expressed in a song cycle of lushly arranged pop, blues and jazz-tinged classics first popularized by the likes of Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington and Frank Sinatra.
Layered in for seasoning are radically re-arranged,but startlingly effective versions of Mitchell's own "A Case of You" and the song-cycle capping title tune. Their enduring nature and relevance remind us that Joni might have been foolish in love, but never anybody's fool.
Luxurious treatments for upwards of 70 musicians (plus special guests like Herbie Hancock and Mark Isham) lends this set the rich panache of a classic Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald studio session. The first track of attack, the Holiday-popularized "You're My Thrill," is a bit of overkill, almost drowning the quivery, sensual nature of the confession, and scaring you into thinking that Mitchell's gone over the top. Ah, but the dynamic is quickly re-balanced with the Etta James' hit "At Last," with contrasting pinging piano notes and strings against Joni's dramatic phrasing - subtly slurred and cracking in all the right places.
Also delish - the downfall predicting "You've Changed" with the first of the album's several haunting Wayne Shorter sax solos, the ups and downs of "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "I Wish I Was In Love Again" and a multi-hued, insightful treatment of "Stormy Weather" that now stands among the best for this war horse.
According to Ice magazine, Mitchell got the bug for this project when her musical director, co-producer and ex-hubby Larry Klein staged a benefit concert called "Stormy Weather" and invited Joni to perform standards with a big band, alongside Sheryl Crow, Paula Cole, Natalie Cole, Stevie Nicks and Bjork. A recording of that whole show may soon see the light of day, we hope, though Mitchell's tantalizing treatise is going to be tough to top.