Ah, me. Here I am, thinking I've got it all sussed out, reconciled to the New Wave music, enjoying and being excited by much of it, seeing rock in its true light as an indoor sport, jogging quite happily along a straight, clear road . . . then along comes Joni, beautiful Joni, and knocks me sideways again.
She's been turning herself inside out, and me with her, for a decade or so now. It was love at first listening, and love for life. So don't ask me to coldly analyse anything she does, don't expect me even to attempt objectivity because she has always touched a part of me that doesn't respond to logic.
I made the transition from Joni's folky, guitary beginnings, through her piano-laden introspective period, to her new electirc consciousness, without any difficulty. I suppose she lost some . . . lovers . . . along the way, but must have gained many more.
The inimitable imagery of her poetry seemed to have found the ultimate musical expression with that album. Her own fresh, distinctive acoustic guitar and sad, strong, beautiful piano work, now complimented perfectly by the fluent, thoughtful lead work of Larry Carlton and the trombone-like melancholy bass patterns of Jaco Pastorius.
Where could she progress from there? Well, 'Don Juan's Reckless Daughter' shows that she has indeed moved on, blending aspects of the old - Pastorius again playing bass on most tracks and 'Hejira's' main percussionist John Guerin also appearing frequently - with new elements of rhythmic expressions which show an absorption of styles evidently encountered during sojourns in exotic places.
But with only one more track on this double album (10 in all) than on 'Hejira', it's also evident that she felt the need to stretch out, to relax an already relaxed approach and let the music accompany her intricate, delicate poetry at a more natural pace. This indulgence reaches its peak on side two which is devoted to just one song lasting 16 minutes, much of it instrumental and orchestral. This song is 'Paprika Plains', a journey back into childhood triggered by the sound of rain falling in the deep of night.
Side three contains three tracks. 'Otis And Marlena', a song about 'sleazing by the sea' in Miami 'while Muslims stick up Washington' is followed by a wholly instrumental helping of Afro-Latin percussion called 'The Tenth World' which sets the scene for 'Dreamland', a powerfully rhythmic recollection of a visit to distant shores.
Playing the album right the way through several times, I realised that these songs - these two sides - were purposely put on one disc in order to separate them from the remaining tracks occupying sides one and four which are shorter (though not short by others' standards), less indulgent and more accessible, melodically speaking. 'Don Juan's Reckless Daughter' is almost two completely separate albums, split in a way that allows you the option of listening to a set of songs with immediate appeal or going for the full mood trip.
Side One opens with 'Cotton Avenue' which takes a fresh look at one of Joni's favourite subjects - the world of bright lights and dancing shoes. Here, echoing, instant harmonies are suddenly split asunder by a fast descending Pastorius bass run which crashes into the beginning of the song like a bowling ball amongst skittles. The song itself is a gentle swing thing which reveals a new, jazzier feel to Joni's voice.
'Talk to Me' which follows is set to familiar Mitchell shuffle rhythm, a song by a lady incensed by her partner's silence in the face of own booze-loosened tougue . . .
'There was a moon and a street lamp
I didn't know I drank such a lot
'Til I pissed a tequila-anaconda
The full length of the parking lot!'
'Jericho', a love song with tasteful percussive underpinning, rounds off side one, and side four opens with the title track, a long and image-rich poem set to music reminiscent of 'Coyote' ond 'Hejira'.
At last we come to what I think is the best song on the album, in a class along with 'Amelia' or 'A Strange Boy' from the last album. 'Off Night Backstreet' is more tight and structured, the kind of song that, melodically at least, you can recall after just one hearing. And beautiful, of course. The final song is almost as striking although it represents an unexpected reversion to early folk-guitar-picking style. Called 'The Silky Veils of Ardour', it turns out to be a fittingly simple ending to an album full of complexities, almost as if Joni is saying: "If you don't remember me any other way, then remember me like this."
I'll never know how this lady can devote so much of her time to baring her inner soul and yet still remain mysterious; perhaps in this enigma lies the real appeal of Joni Mitchell as an artist.
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