"I'm a runaway from the record biz," Joni Mitchell sings in the title track from "Taming the Tiger," the 20th release in her 30-year career, "from the hoods in the hood and the whiny white kids." But for the moment Mitchell has returned, and she has rarely sounded better or more passionate. On the first half of the disk, the 54-year-old artist is in a feisty mood: Recounting an argument with an industry "suit," "Lead Balloon" kicks off with Mitchell crying, "Kiss my ass!" and throwing her drink at him. "Must be the Irish blood," she adds, unapologetic. The emotions shift with "The Crazy Cries of Love." A sly, playful tune about the noise-making of love-making, it captures her voice at its most sensuous. "Stay In Touch" is a delicate bid for contact -- presumably, to the daughter with whom she's been reunited -- both tentative and hopeful. In "Face Lift," unexpected humor lightens the story of a tense encounter with her mother. And "My Best to You" is Mitchell's touching rendition of an old Sons of the Pioneers tune -- a deeply felt, sentimental farewell.
"Taming the Tiger" ends on a bittersweet note, with an instrumental version of the title song. Plucking her idiosyncratically tuned guitar, she strips the song to its bones, with anger, joy, sorrow and wit. Mitchell, who has long considered herself a jazz vocalist (even before her 1979 album "Mingus"), here effortlessly proves herself a seasoned one. "Taming the Tiger's" suite of songs is among the loveliest she has ever recorded.
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