Joni is Buried in Sweetening
Remember when all Joni Mitchell needed was her voice, a piano and somebody to listen? On her latest album, Court and Spark, Joni is (Asylum 7E-1001) accompanied by a talented host of musicians, including Chuck Findley, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Cheech & Chong, and Jose Feliciano.
But whither the good old Joni with the simple sound, voice like a soaring angel? She's buried herself with too much sweetening, an over-accompaniment, sounding sometimes like the Carpenters, at others like the Incredible String Band, but rarely like Joni.
The title song, "Court and Spark," has Joni's bright piano and delicate lyrics: "Love came to my door
With a sleeping roll
And a madman's soul ... "
But any further resemblance to her earlier works on this album is as fleeting as morning dew. Joni doesn't need all that excess baggage -- what is she doing? Trying to camouflage the changes in her voice? Once a vocal gymnast, Joni's voice's gotten lower, huskier. The high notes are missing or strained for. At times she is almost unrecognizable.
Yet Joni achieves something new in this album -- humor. Lines from "Twisted": "Now I heard little children
Were supposed to sleep tight
That's why I got into the vodka one night."
This is quite a different mood for Joni, who usually indulges in maudlin love ballads. Indeed this is the only song on the album which she didn't write (by Ross and Grey). She carries off this light "jazz era" tune quite well.
This simply means that a better performer, more polished and professional. She's backed up by the best musicians money can buy. But is this Joni?
In "Just Like this Train," Joni says, "I'm always running behind the times." Well, not anymore. She's caught up with everybody and has a slicker sound than any of them. She's also learned to mimic the best selling sounds of the greats.
In "Raised on Robbery," Joni mimes the Pointer Sisters' harmonizing trio of voices. The opening bars of "Car on a Hill" sound much like Marvin Gaye's style. At recent concerts, Joni has startled her audiences with Bette Midleresque costumes and dancing.
From anyone but Joni we could accept such mimickry; but we have learned to expect perfection from her, the simple purity of style, distinctly her own. On "Court and Spark," Joni is just another pretty voice.
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