(Grade: B) It's tempting to dismiss "Both Sides Now" as a water-treading exercise in nostalgia, since Joni Mitchell - one of the best songwriters around - spends the entire CD crooning old tunes. But there's something oddly compelling about this waltz down memory lane.
Interpreting 10 jazz-pop standards and revisiting two of her own songs ("A Case of You" and "Both Sides Now"), Mitchell reminds us what a brilliant singer she can be. It's impossible not to miss the Billie Holiday-isms that creep into her singing in "Stormy Weather" or "At Last." But Mitchell's own jazzy, idiosyncratic voice shines through as she moves from the fluttery highs of "You've Changed" to the low, almost masculine rumblings of "Answer Me, My Love."
Recorded with the 70-piece London Symphony Orchestra, "Both Sides Now" could pass for the lush soundtrack to some '40s Hollywood love tale. Mitchell is even releasing a specially designed boxed version of "Both Sides Now" in time for Valentine's Day (the CD's official release date is March 21). Yet while the theme of the CD is romance, this is no mere puppy-love story. An ominous piano motif makes "At Last" ring out like a warning bell at a train crossing, and the singer paints "Both Sides Now" four shades darker than her 1968 original.
Mitchell's 20th album might be a retro mood piece. But its mood brims with all the complicated textures and subtle shades you'll find on any Joni Mitchell disc.