It's hard not to be daunted by the sheer quality of Joni Mitchell's back catalogue. Her recorded output stands behind her like a set of carved stone tablets, reflecting one acutely sensitive singer/songwriter's world view over three decades. But she never appears weighed down by past achievements or worries about surpassing her own superlative standards. She just gets on and sings.
This is her sixteenth LP, the first since 'Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm' three years ago, and it's a joy to hear the master-craftswoman at work. 'Night Ride Home', which stylistically picks up where she left off with 'Chalk Mark', has a soothing quality which improves your inner glow with every listen. It's an intimate, one-to-one kind of listening experience in which Joni gently reaches out and hooks you in with her exquisite melody lines and that wonderful bird-song of a voice.
Much has been made of her word-play, but don't strain too hard to catch the clever couplets; it's just as rewarding if you merely pick out the odd word, phrase or intonation. It's clear that greed comes in for a good battering on 'The Windfall' ("In this land of litigation, the courts are like game shows") and that she continues to bemoan the folly of man, using religious symbolism in the delicate but barbed 'Passion play' ("Who're you gonna get to do the dirty work when all the slaves are free?"). The central piece, 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem', seems to be something of a pessimistic view of the Second Coming. On Side Two she returns to a self-analytical mood for 'Come In From The Cold' ("I am howling in the dark"), but lightens up for 'Ray's Dad's Cadillac'.
Apart from her departures into jazz, Joni Mitchell has rarely altered her style: it's pure, it's clear, it's honest and sincere: just her voice, her acoustic guitar and a minimal but always effective backing. She is what she is and she does what she does with consummate style and a perception that remains pin-sharp. And the bottom line is that her songs still say it all.
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