Over the years, Joni Mitchell has consistently proven to be one of the most eloquent and significant songwriters of the age. In her earlier days, she was known for mellow introspection in songs like "Both Sides Now." With the album "Court and Spark," Mitchell seemingly reached a turning point, as her music became more complex, borrowing much from free-form jazz, and letting her lyrics weave mysterious and obscure tales of people and emotion.
In her latest release, "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" (Asylum), Mitchell delivers a typically ambitious and artful performance.
Usually a double album denotes an LP half of which is decent, half of which is dispensable. Exceptions are such albums as "The Beatles" (White Album) and the Stones' "Exile on Main Street." "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" is one of those exceptions, as it is carefully and precisely plotted as a continuous piece of music.
Side one opens with an overture, which blends into the jazzy "Cotton Avenue." Mentioning "shiny people dancing," and advising people "if you got a place to go, then you got to go there," Cotton Avenue" is a dance tune, but not the type heard blaring at the local discos. The next cut "Talk to Me" is a tirade from an inebriated woman, who beseeches her man to converse with her. The side closes with the love song "Jericho," which speaks of secrets between lovers.
One work comprises the second side. "Paprika Plains" is more than 16 minutes of orchestrated fantasy. Unlike many artists who attempt a piece of such magnitude, Mitchell keeps her work clean and unweighted by superfluous orchestration.
"Paprika Plains" utilizes various motifs, including a few suggesting the American Indian. The lyrics flow with the music, and are enhanced by one of Mitchell's finest piano performances ever.
Weakest of the four sides is the third. The two strong numbers, "Otis and Marlena" and "Dreamland" are flawed the number sandwiched between, "The Tenth World." Similar to "The Jungle Line" from "The Hissing of Summer Lawns," "The Tenth World" is laden with congas and percussion, and accented by Spanish vocal improvisation. Although the liner notes maintain it is only six minutes and forty-five seconds "The Tenth World" pounds the listener's brain into submission, hampering the effect of "Dreamland," and generally lowering the standards of LP.
A trio of "love songs" makes up the final side. The title cut, "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" seems to refer to the Yaqui teacher of Carlos Castenada [sic], rather than the historical lover. Speaking of snakes, split-tongued spirits and magic, it is actually a song about the differences in emotions and viewpoints of the sexes.
"Off Night Backstreet," which follows, is the best number on the album. Melodically, it is superb. Lyrically it speaks of two former lovers still touched by their past relationship.
The final piece, "The Silky Veils of Ardor" calls to mind much of Mitchell's early work, as it is structurally simple, yet strongly comments on the the [sic] male-female relationship.
As in the case of previous albums, the backing musicians are not an integral part of "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter." Mitchell provides the major instrumental backing with her piano and guitar. Interestingly, Chaka Khan of Rufus aids Mitchell with backup vocals on two of the numbers.
Unfortunately for Mitchell, "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" could be classified as a typical Joni Mitchell album - typical in the sense that it does not appeal to the average record buyer's tastes. Still, it is important as a lyrical statement. Mitchell does well what so many female songwriters and singers cannot seem to do - she draws from her own experience, then applies the introspection to her subject.
She ignores the usual whining and moaning approach to love songs, and instead emphasizes all the subtleties and intricacies of such relations.
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