Like artist Georgia O'Keeffe, a woman she admires, Joni seems stubbornly loyal to her muse. Perhaps it is a fidelity that springs from a recognition of the fickle nature of public acclaim. The artistic stops on Joni's artistic hegira in recent years have been in the exotic jazz territory, culminating with her arcane 1979 collaboration with the late jazz behemoth Charlie Mingus. That this new collection is more accessible than some recent works is no indication of a creative U-turn. The sound does not trek back to her acoustic folkie days but conjures up the style of her best-selling 1974 Court and Spark album. This rich song cycle about love opens with a womanly lament on growing older (Joni's 39) and bidding farewell to the carefree passion of adolescence. It's called Chinese Cafe and ingeniously blends snippets of Unchained Melody, a tune from her own adolescence. Man to Man (featuring background vocals by former flame James Taylor) is about a long succession of lovers. Underneath the Streetlight depicts the flash and trouble of urban romance, and Ladies' Man is about a gent who "could charm the diamonds off a rattlesnake." (You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care is Joni's funny send-up of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's clever vintage tune. She reaches somewhat further back - to the Apostle Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians - for the inspiration behind Love: "Love is kind!/Enduring all things/Hoping all things/Love has no evil in mind." The gem of the collection, though, is the spirited, haunting title cut, which uses a wild pony as a metaphor for love that is tempted by security, but finally opts for the risks of unbridled freedom.
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