Influential singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell traces romance's realities and vagaries on this definitive song cycle on the arc of a love affair by looking to the standards era for songs like "Stormy Weather", "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "I Wish I Were in Love Again."
On the sublime "Both Sides Now" 70 members of the London Symphony Orchestra back Mitchell as she imagines herself a contemporary of greats like Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Etta James. Curiously, "because" her voice is no longer the crystalline instrument it once was she pulls it off with elan. Her pipes cigarette-marinated and robbed of range, Mitchell must now rely on careful phrasing, using her airy voice as color, to make her point - just perfect for her emotional mining of Holiday's "You're My Thrill" or probing "You've Changed".
Despite the pedigree of the material the album's triumphs come in Mitchell's refashioning of her own material (1971's poetic "A Case of You" and the reflective 1968 title track popularized by Judy Collins) in moody orchestral jazz style. Both benefit from Mitchell's maturity, particularly a contemplative take on "Both Sides Now". This is a rich and wonderful album from an artist whose reputation has far outstripped the quality of her output since her '70s heyday.
("Both Sides Now" is available now as a limited-edition Mitchell-designed box containing the CD and three of her lithographs; the standard jewel case version arrives March 21.) -Howard Cohen