Joni Mitchell Night Ride Home (Geffen/MCA): "Oh I am not old / I'm told / But I am not young," Joni Mitchell sings on "Nothing Can Be Done". No, I suppose she isn't - she's 47 - and perhaps that is why, after the electro-beat topicality of 1985's Dog Eat Dog and the cast-of-thousands approach that dominated 1988's Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm, Mitchell has returned to personal reflection and intimate settings on Night Ride Home.
Most of the songs here deal with either the pleasures and pains of middle age ("The Windfall" is one of the nastiest reflections on divorce since Marvin Mitchelson last filed a writ) or the fragility and innocence of youth as seem [sic] in the rearview mirror of nostalgia ("Come In From The Cold" is like a timeline of a lifetime's crushes and love affairs).
Supported by Mitchell's jazz-tinged acoustic guitar, and the limber, asymmetrical bass lines of her husband and producer Larry Klein and spare percussion, the material seems less adventurous (if in many ways more pleasant) than some of her recent work, but the songs are no less literate or well-written than those Mitchell has given us in the past.
The only real clanger of the record is "Slouching Towards Bethlehem", her rewording of W.B. Yeats' poem "The Second Coming". She turned Yeats' clarity into equivocation ("The best lack all conviction / While the worst are full of passion" becomes "The best lack all conviction / Given time to think / The worst are full of passion / Without mercy") and, by setting the poem against a lightweight musical backdrop, has robbed the poet's words of their pervasive sense of dread.
To hear Mitchell sing it, you might think that "this rough beast / Its hour come 'round at last" was slouching toward Bethlehem for a quart of milk and a pack of smokes.
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