Sun Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5
Joni Mitchell has never been the retiring sort -- personally or professionally. So it's no surprise that five years after she vowed to quit the music business, the mercurial musical icon is back with a new album. Nor should we be shocked that it's another opinionated effort from the always-outspoken singer-songwriter.
The Iraq war and the Catholic Church, real estate developers and environmental polluters, Wall Street and Las Vegas; on the 10-song Shine, Mitchell rails against them all -- and more. So many more in fact, that by the time she gets down to kvetching about drivers who pass on the right while talking on cellphones, she sounds less like a folk legend and more like your cranky aunt.
Still, it's harder to complain about the music. Picking up where she left off on 1998's Taming the Tiger -- her last album of new material -- Mitchell handles most of the instruments herself on these mellowly sophisticated jazz-pop compositions. And so what if the 63-year-old vocalist is starting to show her age? In these dark days of Britney, we desperately need female artists baring their souls instead of their crotches.
As long as she's up for the job, it's hers.
One Week Last Summer 4:59
Mitchell warms up with a graceful instrumental waltz -- though the interplay of wistful piano chords, keyboard washes and sax sounds a little like something you'd hear while on hold.
This Place 3:54
Joni unveils her finely sanded pipes on this environmental number, complaining that "Money makes the trees come down" over an acoustic guitar backdrop sweetened with shimmery slide and horns.
If I Had a Heart 4:04
"Holy war, genocide, suicide, hate and cruelty ... If I had a heart, I'd cry," croons Mitchell on this bleak ballad. The suitably sombre piano melody and synths are offset by a drum-machine beat straight from your granny's Hammond organ.
Exotic meets electronic on this groovy cut, which sets didgeridoo and saxophone against a lightly clattery funk groove and bursts of crunchy noise.
Bad Dreams 5:41
A study in contrasts -- while Joni tries to rouse us from our oblivious self-indulgence and save the planet, the gently flowing piano-and-sax undercurrents soothe us into complacency.
Big Yellow Taxi 2007 2:47
Mitchell gives her '70s classic an edgy, stylish makeover with scrapier guitars, accordion and a lilting groove that join in a syncopated jigsaw puzzle of rhythm.
Night of the Iguana 4:38
Another juxtaposition of ethnology and technology, with lush keyboard waves set to a propulsive Latin groove -- and some surprisingly searing electric guitar licks.
Strong and Wrong 4:04
Some people believe might is right. Mitchell isn't one of them, as this moody, textured piano-ballad makes clear.
To the sweet-dream strains of another gently drifting synth ballad, Joni reads off her long laundry list of offences and offenders, praying for some illumination in the darkness.
Rudyard Kipling and jazz fusion may make strange bedfellows -- but Mitchell marries them rather seamlessly in this mellow groove topped with lyrics adapted from the classic poem.