MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Joni Mitchell has released a new album called "Travelogue." It's made up of some of her most familiar material, re-recorded with orchestral arrangements.
Critic Jim Fusilli takes a look at the album that Joni Mitchell says will be her final one.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
JIM FUSILLI reporting:
So upset is Joni Mitchell at the music industry--she's called it a cesspool and corrupt--that she's declared "Travelogue" her last album. If so, the two-CD career summary will serve as a misleading denouement to the story of this adventurous artist. "Travelogue" is Mitchell with strings, a 70-piece orchestra to be precise, a male choir and a group of top-shelf jazz musicians.
And while new charts by Vince Mendoza expose different textures in Mitchell's earlier work, many are bloated and overwrought. An unpleasant air of self- importance hovers over some of her most beloved songs.
(SOUNDBITE OF "WOODSTOCK")
Ms. JONI MITCHELL: (Singing) He said, `I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm. I'm gonna join in a rock 'n' roll band. I'm gonna camp out on the land, and try and get my soul free.' He said, `We are stardust.' He said, `We're golden and we got to get ourselves back to the garden.'
FUSILLI: Yet Mitchell's work is worthy of such high-minded exploration. There is genuine gravitas in her poetry. Whether she looks within or turns her mind to the timeless issues of morality, such as in "The Sire of Sorrow," in which she examines Job's lament. Here, the subject of the song matches the magnitude of Mendoza's charts.
(SOUNDBITE OF "THE SIRE OF SORROW")
Choir: (Singing) You have no name now.
Ms. MITCHELL: (Singing) Was it the sins of my youth? What have I done to you, that you make everything I dread and everything I fear come true?
Choir: (Singing) Oh, your guilt must weigh so greatly.
Ms. MITCHELL: (Singing) Everything I dread and everything I fear come true.
Choir: (Singing) Man is the sire of sorrow.
Ms. MITCHELL: (Singing) Oh, you make everything I dread and everything I fear come true.
FUSILLI: "Travelogue" works best when Mendoza and Larry Klein, longtime musical director for Joni Mitchell, keep things moving, pushing the melodies and keeping her familiar themes intact by recasting them--the notable bass line of "Hejira," for example, or the chugging intro to "Just Like This Train." And throughout the album, Mitchell's voice is deeper, earthier than the shimmering soprano of her youth, which intimates she's not merely revisiting her songs, but reinterpreting them from a new, mature perspective.
But for an artist whose body of work compares favorably to any musician of her era, a grandiloquent project like "Travelogue" serves only as an occasionally compelling overview. As a final statement, it utterly disappoints.
Lacking a sense of adventure comparable to Mitchell's earlier work, it ultimately sags under the weight of its own reflection.
NORRIS: The CD by Joni Mitchell is called "Travelogue." Our reviewer, Jim Fusilli, writes for The Wall Street Journal.