In case the world needed more testament to Joni Mitchell's genius as a writer and song stylist, it has it in Taming the Tiger--a milestone.
Most of the songs are dominated by solo guitar/keyboard arrangements with saxophone champion Wayne Shorter, a noted Mitchell collaborator in the past, serving as the only principal soloist.
The tone of the material is largely romantic and reflective. But the love stories are far from happy at times, as in a remorseful lament called Man From Mars and the edgy account of insecure relations, Love Puts on a New Face.
Mitchell's great strength as a chronicler of human emotions is addressing that which is both everyday and subtle. Face Lift, for example, tells of a mother's scorn and shame over her daughter's new romance. To give the story all the more poignancy and color, she sets it at Christmas. Mitchell's reply to this generational upheaval is a simple and stately "bless us."
There are, of course, more biting affairs of the heart, as in the pop-conscious Lead Balloon ("an angry man is an angry man, but an angry woman..."). But Mitchell also takes on the big picture in No Apologies as she confronts the American military for brushing off the rape of a Japanese girl by servicemen in Okinawa.
In the title tune she takes on the music industry, a particularly curious stab, given Mitchell's 1996 Grammy win for Turbulent Indigo. But perhaps getting cozy with business is all part of the plan. "the time to watch the beast the best," Mitchell sings, "is when it's purring at your side."
So, no, Mitchell doesn't so much tame the tiger here as keep it on a firm leash with an album that is cool and compelling. It's a vital reaffirmation of her strength."
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