Orchestrated standards from the great American songbook given the unique Mitchell makeover
Everyone from Bryan Ferry to George Michael seems to be recording albums of old standards these days, but Joni Mitchell's effort is in a class of its own. With a 71 piece orchestra and a 22 piece big band, she covers ten classics from the great American songbook associated with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
Mitchell's darkly nicotine-stained voice is perfect for the material, with outstanding renditions of 'At Last', best known in Etta James's version, 'You're My Thrill' and Rodgers and Hart's 'I Wish I Were In Love Again'. She also offers lushly orchestrated reinventions of two of her own songs, 'A Case Of You' and 'Both Sides Now'. Sung in a far lower register than the originals, the former in particular with it's smokily lived-in vocal and evocative arrangement is arguably the album's high point. But being Joni, 'Both Sides Now' is not simply an album of covers. According to producer and ex-husband Larry Klein, the songs are sequenced as a "programmatic suite", so that they document the decline and fall of a relationship from initial flirtation through consummation, disillusionment and despair to resigned acceptance.
Talking about the album, Mitchell sounds a pretty reactionary figure these days. "See here? Remember this? This was music," she told Billboard, and went on to complain that the contemporary music scene is full of "these little puff creatures with unbelievably little talent". She also insists that there is no prospect of her writing more material in the foreseeable future, claiming that she now regards herself as "a painter who got side-tracked" (five of her paintings grace the album). Yet while she can still sing like this, few are going to complain. ****