JONI MITCHELL: Don Juan's Reckless Daughter.
Joni Mitchell (vocals, piano, guitar); instrumental accompaniment. Overture/Cotton Avenue; Talk to Me; Jericho; Paprika Plains; Otis and Marlena; The Tenth World; Dreamland; and four others. ASYLUM BB-101 two discs $7.98, (8) ET8-101 $7.97, © TC5-101 $7.97.
Performance: A little too abstract
Recording: Very good
At first this may seem another of those difficult Joni Mitchell albums of the "Hissing of Summer Lawns" ilk, fraught as it is with zonky and unexpected, if not alien, sounds and dotted with those chords that exist only in Joni Mitchell music. The words of a given piece are fairly easy to track, but even then it takes a lot of work on your part to hear the thing as a whole.
The album starts with what Joni calls an overture (actually a moody little montage of chords, awfully short and awfully quiet as overtures go), which suggests more of a narrative quality than I can find in it. It sounds like a parade of her latest ambitions for "the popular song," but a parade constructed more for herself than for the rest of us. There is narration - from her own viewpoint, in the third person, and back in the first person in character after the manner of Randy Newman - and there is exploration, especially in the nonverbal parts. In Paprika Plains, there is composition: it runs 16 minutes and 19 seconds - one whole side - making it by far her longest "song" to date, and it is an ambitious now-symphonic, now-jazz piece, intelligent but also rambling and arcane. It makes a slick, quick change from Tom Scott's jazz band to classical orchestra and back again, leaving me - again - unable to hold onto the feeling that the piece is a whole and not just a clever grafting job.
The title song has the most interesting lyrics (you have to allow for the fact that I'm still, unfashionably, political), although its melody doesn't amount to much. But there are ideas scattered throughout the two-disc program, and it is not entirely a humorless abstraction Joni Mitchell devised just to please herself. Her way of satirizing herself is related to her way of describing life in general; she's trying to strike, savagely if necessary, into the sub-surface of decisions and behavior. "You spend your sentences like they were currency," one of her characters tells a close-mouthed friend. Then she says, "Talk to me. I'm always talking." Then she goes "pikwark pikwark" like a chicken squawking. She's trying to move the popular song beyond prettiness - and the album is rich, like a complicated painting. I'll play it a lot more times and keep finding new stuff in it - but I still think that too much of it is pitched at the head and not enough at the solar plexus.
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