Joni Mitchell might have nothing left to prove, but she's got plenty left to say.
Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm
GEFFEN WX 141 LP/Cass/CD
Given a musician whose career has encompassed more than 20 years and a welter of styles ranging from flower-child folkiness through rock and jazz to her present offering, it's little surprise to find Joni Mitchell sounding unhurried. As she approaches middle age, she's put aside the dizzying invention of times past, and like Van Morrison, perhaps realizes that she no longer has anything to prove. Yet this doesn't mean that she no longer has anything to say.
Her first recording since DOG EAT DOG three years ago, CHALK MARK IN A RAINSTORM has a decidedly cosmopolitan feel, not only because Mitchell has absorbed a fabulous musical vocabulary but furthermore has assembled for the outing a diverse cast of players, including Don Henley, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, sax-player Wayne Shorter and Benjamin Orr (of The Cars). Happily it's also free of Thomas Dolby's cluttered production, which buried her last album beneath an avalanche of studio gimmickry.
Opening with My Secret Place, a duet with Peter Gabriel that turns on a haunting piano figure, the keynote is Mitchell's multi-tracked vocal, featured throughout the record and lending it at times an eerie, echoing quality. It's best exemplified on side two's centrepiece, Beat Of Black Wings, where the layered harmonies induce an almost hypnotic melancholy and huge shafts of synthesizer beam over its gentle percussive roll. Wonderful, in other words.
What's pleasing here is the languid ease of tone and pace—she's not striving to be "modern". Only once does she stray into modish terrain, on [The] Reoccurring Dream, a disparate patchwork of found voices as explored by the likes of Big Audio Dynamite. The modernist trappings fail to disguise the fact that there's not really a song there, and it's the one time her step falters. Elsewhere, there are forays in the mystic, though I'm at a loss as to what Tea Leaf Prophecy (vocals courtesy of Wendy & Lisa) might be about. Dancing Clown is a middling adult rocker (featuring Billy Idol, if you please) but her lightness of touch carries it off. The closing track A Bird That Whistles, with her mellifluous warbling at its crest, all but floats away in a fugue of horns.
Joni Mitchell has come a long way from Big Yellow Taxi and Blue. There's nothing here to match her creative apogee of the mid-'70's, viz. COURT AND SPARK and THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS: yet even if her demons have been exorcised, her lyrical sense retains much of the wit and intelligence that characterised her best work.****