Joni Mitchell is a folkie who knows how to be thoughtful.
Despite great success as a songwriter with things like "Clouds" and "Woodstock" to her credit, Mitchell refuses to stand on her laurels. Most folks would be more than satisfied by producing nothing better than her superb "Blue" album in a lifetime, but Mitchell moves ever onward.
"Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" (Asylum), despite maintaining the Mitchell persona in its title, continues her gradual swing towards more percussive, more interesting rhythms than most folkies bother with it.
How else could you explain the appearance of such superb talents in that direction as Airto Moreira, Chaka Khan and Jaco Pastorius, one of the most affective bass players I've ever heard.
Mitchell simply completes a very frustrating equation that's been bothering me for a long time. She's kept her lyrical gifts at their usual high level and improved the musical values of her work so that they're a lot more than the usual didactic folkie studd.
This new work moves at the same time, it's discussing life, love, Jesus, Hitler and Howard Hughes. That's an achievement that neither folkie nor R&B master has managed.
Her voice maintains the pristine purity it's always had, which combined with the force of her words was always powerful, with the insistency of a percussion section that refuses to give up.
All the power of "Blue" for example, didn't have to matter. You could ignore it if you wanted to. That's impossible with "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter", which demands that you listen to it.
And that is the greatest contribution of this new two-record set. It's something from a folkie that swings and thinks at the same time.
"Otis and Marlena" is a virtual metaphor for the musical wall that Mitchell is knocking down. It's a good song too. She may have lost some listeners with this continuation of her journey into melody and rhythm, but not this one.
She didn't write another "Clouds" for this album. Very few songs could come even close to that one. But she maintained a level of excellence in her lyrics while expanding herself beyond the limits of the cliché slot she's been pushed into.
This is a beautiful record, and for once it's not dependent on a listener's perception of Joni Mitchell as a somewhat battered queen.
It plain cooks too.