This Friday, Craft Recordings will release the vinyl debut of Joni Mitchell's most recent studio album, Shine. With excellent music that carries even more weight in 2020, RTI-pressed 180-gram vinyl, and beautiful packaging, this LP is one for Joni's many fans to treasure.
Mitchell's artistry proved prescient on Shine, originally released in 2007 on the Hear Music label. Thematically, Shine is not far removed from Dog Eat Dog, her searing critique of Reagan-era policies and corporate greed. Twenty years later, she tackles similar themes - war, political corruption, the dwindling capacity for empathy. Some listeners have opined that the lyrics aren't always as ornate or allegorical as they once were. Sure, there are no shades of "Scarlett," but that's not due to any dulling of her gifts. The subject matter of Shine, and the urgency with which the message is delivered, lends itself to direct storytelling.
But that's not to say that Shine is icy or detached. Lyrically and musically, it feels organic. Where Dog Eat Dog alluded to big business with an array of synths, there's a certain natural quality to the arrangements on Shine as Mitchell returned to acoustic guitar and even piano after a long absence. The band of like-minded collaborators soar as well. Building the atmosphere are Larry Klein on bass, Brian Blade on drums, Greg Leisz on that shimmering pedal steel, and Bob Sheppard on soprano sax evoking the strains of Wayne Shorter. James Taylor even shows up to contribute guitar. Each adds a special ingredient to the many memorable songs on the album. Though a sense of foreboding imbues much of the album, Joni always finds a way to balance her warnings and observations with some levity. The lively "This Place" - another "get back to the garden" anthem - pieces together visions of paradises not just paved over but sold to California, with humorous anecdotes about a wild bear rummaging through trash cans and a neighbor who'd hop a cloud back from the Heavens if they didn't compare to the peaceful BC wilderness. Elsewhere, Joni warns of egomaniacal warmongers ("Strong and Wrong"), genocides, and a planet beyond repair ("If I Had A Heart").
She offers glimmers of hope with "Hana," a character study inspired by the 1938 film White Banners. The housekeeper in that movie not only pitches in to help a needy couple, but she offers her tested but positive outlook on life. Joni also serves up an updated version of "Big Yellow Taxi." Tree museum costs soared since 1970, from a dollar and a half to 25 bucks, and now an innumerable "arm and a leg," and though the accordion and guitar play a jaunty calypso-ish arrangement, there's a weariness - but no resignation - to her vocal three decades after the original recording.
Shine borrows from Kipling, whose "If" is adapted here, still inspiring generations to maintain their virtues. Then there's the vast, almost hymnal "Shine." "Oh, let your little light shine..." she sings. On Vegas, Wall Street, on the struggling fishermen, science, technology, rising oceans, and all the dazzling darkness in our world. It's an inspiring and hopeful epic sung by a narrator determined to see this planet survive for future generations. And hasn't that been Joni's role since her debut? On Shine, the singer-songwriter continues examining that delicate balance between humans and nature - our personal greed and its effects on the planet and our fellow man - as only she can.
For its vinyl debut, Shine has been given the deluxe treatment. While many vinyl reissues of mid-2000s titles seem to be no more than CD rips pressed to a new medium, Shine has been expertly handled. The music has been remastered from high-resolution digital sources by Bernie Grundman. And to these ears, his sweetening makes for a more enveloping listening experience than the original CD, with better bass response and more detail across the frequency spectrum. It's all pressed on dead-quiet, 180-gram vinyl and housed in a gorgeous gatefold package. What's not to love?
Joni Mitchell has always been with us in trying times to offer keen observations, wisdom, and more than a little heart and humor. These days, Shine is a prophetic gift, a new lesson in survival in the times of COVID-19 that reminds us to keep our hopes up, to empathize, and to pitch in to help our dying planet and each other. "You've got the fight, you've got the insight," Joni sings in her interpretation of "If." And, thankfully, she shares some of hers with us once more...
Joni Mitchell, Shine (originally Hear Music CD HMCD-30457, 2007 - reissued on LP by Craft Recordings, 2020)
One Week Last Summer
If I Had a Heart
Big Yellow Taxi (2007)
Night of the Iguana
Strong and Wrong
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