Joni Mitchell's latest " Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, begins with a rambling, disjointed jazz overture. As Mitchell's rich, airy voice sails above her lush guitar interlude, we know that this will by no means be an ordinary pop album.
Anyone who has followed Mitchell's distinguished and fruitful career would know that her albums have become anything but ordinary, and this new two-record set is no exception. This is a continuation of the ambitious, jazz-oriented work of 1975's "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" and 1976's "Hejira",
On "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter," Mitchell works closely with her back-up band (which includes member of Weather Report and her usual drummer John Guerin) to create a complex, intricate instrumentation that is at first confusing and tiring, but after repeated listenings becomes compelling and quite arresting.
This is a work for discriminating tastes only; in fact, I did not warm to it until after a few honest burst of determination. But after becoming accustomed to the album's occasional pretensions and obscurities, one can acquire a lasting taste for it.
Mitchell's guitar work here is excellent, and her vocals are constantly surprising; her voice has matured from her earlier days, and now has a more full-bodied, warm, jazzy flair.
THE REAL INTEREST of the album, of course, are the songs. Mitchell commands a poetic, person writing style which seems difficult to rival in today's popular music. Side one is the most consistently successful side, which includes a humorous, sensuous come-on called "Talk to Me." This side also includes one of the album's best tunes, "Jericho," in which Mitchell expresses to her lover her promise to be more open in beautifully simple lyrics:
I'll try and keep myself open to you
It gets easier and easier to do
Just like Jericho
Let the walls come tumbling down now
Let them fall right on the ground.
Side two consists of an over 16-minute long cut called "Paprika Plains," an ambitious cut which begins with Mitchell's piano, builds to a sort of concerto with full orchestration, and finishes with a rhythm track and soprano sax solo. It is quite an undertaking, and although it is slightly overlong, it is daring, and soars with beautifully contrasting orchestration.
Mitchell's ambitiousness can sometimes lead to pretensions, the price any artist pays when over-extending herself. Side three begins well with "Otis and Marlena," an ambiguous song with particularly distinguished guitar work by Mitchell.
Side four immediately diminishes the bitter taste with three excellent songs. It ends with "The Silky Veils of Ardor," a song about the dangers and fears of romance, which features Mitchell's intense vocal and sublime guitar. It is a fitting conclusion for an extraordinary album.
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