A parade of powerful female talents monopolize this week's new CD roundup.
JONI'S BACK: It's been almost a decade since last we've heard new music from Joni Mitchell. As a fan, my expectations for "Shine" (Hear Music, A-) were incredibly lofty.
Initially I was put off by the homemade, low-key production qualities of the effort. Joni played most of the instruments - guitar, piano and synthesizers that mimic woodwinds, strings and accordion. She even punched up (gasp!) a drum machine on one track.
Get past that minimalism to study her heartfelt lyrics and sterling vocals, and the overwhelming sense of mission that's driven this project takes over.
Mitchell is bemoaning a world gone stupid and self-destructive - where natural beauty is sold to and demolished by the highest bidder, where wars are conducted for logic-defying reasons, where religion is misused, where the sun (fate?) shines equally on the worst and best of us.
A lovely instrumental overture (written for a commissioned ballet) sets a stately tone, while Joni's ironically phrased "If I Had a Heart" is the treasure we'll be hearing forever more.
Doubling our delight, Herbie Hancock has wisely chosen today to deliver "River - The Joni Letters" (Verve, B+), his jazz-flavored homage to Mitchell's past glories. Co-produced and arranged by Mitchell's bassist and ex-hubby Larry Klein, this lovely session mixes instrumental treatments with pure-perfection vocal homages by Norah Jones ("Court and Spark"), Tina Turner ("Edith and the Kingpin"), Corinne Bailey Ray ("River"), Luciana Souza ("Amelia"), Leonard Cohen (how did he sneak in?) and Ms. Mitchell herself (on the relatively obscure, "lay down your arms"-themed "Tea Leaf Prophecy.")