Joni Mitchell's forte has always been creating a mood, taking listeners wafting through her world with her deeply personal lyrics, rarified vocals and floating arrangements.
On "Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm" she also plays storyteller with musical mini-dramas like "Dancin' Clown," "Snakes and Ladders" and "The Beat of Black Wings."
And she must have a ball casting the songs. Billy Idol and Tom Petty have singing roles on "Dancin' Clown," the story of two men in pursuit of a mysterious woman, and Willie Nelson helps out on her touching version of the Roy Rogers standard "Cool Water."
"Chalk Mark" also features Mitchell's husband and co-producer Larry Klein, Peter Gabriel, Don Henley, Benjamin Orr from the Cars, former Prince sidewomen Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, Thomas Dolby, Wayne Shorter and Iron Eyes Cody, the teary-eyed Indian from the anti-litter commercials.
Lyrically, Mitchell is still artfully mixing her politics with her poetry. "Number One" examines yuppie ambition, "Lakota" pays homage to Indians and "The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Lay Down Your Arms)" has an anti-war theme. She pokes big holes in the advertising industry with "The Reoccurring Dream" with snippets from television commercials and lyrics like "Our discontent is their delight, they offer relief for the purchase price."
"Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm" is heavy on the electronics but it's a soothing synthesizer and it gives this album a sensation of flight.