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Night Ride Home Print-ready version

by Les Berkley
June 1991
Original article: PDF

I know what you're thinking: "Hey, look, Joni Mitchell's so washed up they got the medieval music guy to review her record!" Listen, just because I turn 40 in two days doesn't mean I'm not up to date. I listen to Ferron and Phranc and the Bodeans and the Smithereens and the Replacements and K.T. and k.d. and-I mean, I'm so hip I'm arthritic. So I really dug it when Joni said a couple years ago. "You can't just say, 'I only like the music of the '60s,' and fogey out." Me "fogey out"? No way, lady. The problem was that you were looking for the sound of today in the sterile pop garbage and studio manipulations of Top 40. Thomas Dolby? Willie Nelson? Cut me a break. Maybe the real problem was you were afraid of growing old; well so, by God, am I.

This is the best Joni Mitchell album in a very long time; I heard it for the first time driving to work, and I thought, "My God, it's the real Joni Mitchell." It's as if somewhere between the wretched Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm and this release, Mitchell had a good long cleansing laugh at herself, and came to grips with age and aging, with love and politics. The writing on Night Ride Home regains the intimate point of view that always characterized the best of Joni Mitchell's work; it's also nearly as unselfconsciously poetic as those first miraculous songs of her early period. It's about freedom, God, and the passage of time; it's gently melancholic, like Ray Bradbury when he was good. In an age of instant co-optation, it's the product of a fiercely independent spirit. It's also music for grownups, pure and simple.

Some brief ups and downs: the title track is the only real upbeat tune on the record and I like it, even if the imitation crickets are a drag. "Cherokee Louise" is a nice understated tale of childhood friendship that hides an implied subtext of abuse and revenge. "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" is Yeats's "Second Coming" with an effective Mitchell setting, while "The Only Joy in Town" is a fascinating update of "Carey" (from her Blue period). I didn't much like "Ray's Dad's Cadillac"- I mean, c'mon lady, high school was 30 years ago, and who cares anyway? "Nothing Can Be Done" (music by Larry Klein) did nothing for me either, but if you can listen to the opening riff of "Two Grey Rooms," with Joni back on a real piano for the first time in who knows how long, without getting a chill down your spine, you're probably some kind of space alien.

Sound is better than any of Joni's recent releases; arrangements are mostly spare and effective, and while there's still too much processing, it's maybe half of what we've gotten accustomed to of late. The LP is warmer and better than the CD, and you'll probably like it better if you can find it. Fat chance. Anyhow, this is a genuine Joni Mitchell record, and it just don't get better than that.

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Added to Library on November 10, 2021. (1575)


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