Joni's New Album Stays in Shadows

by D. S.
Los Angeles Times
November 2, 1980

The message from this two-record set is clear. Those Mitchell fans who hoped she would double back from the jazzier roads her music has traveled recently are bound to be disappointed. "Shadows and Light," a live set recorded in Santa Barbara last year, finds Mitchell adroitly backed by a quintet of well-known fusion musicians—including Weather Report's Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny and Michael Brecker—with occasional vocal support from the Persuasions.

The album opens with a sound collage blending portions of the title song, Frankie Lymon's "I Don't Want to Be a Juvenile Delinquent" and the "You can't be idealistic all your life ... Except to Yourself" scene from "Rebel Without a Cause." It closes with an impressionistic solo version of "Woodstock" that's light-years removed from the counterculture anthem of years ago.

Most of the material is drawn from her last few albums, but while the songs do lend themselves to jazzy interpretations, they generally land in a pop-jazz limbo. The melodies aren't clearly defined and repetitious enough to work as pop hooks, yet the structures of the songs severely limit the opportunities for improvisatory interplay.

Her version of Lymon's "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" is spirited but ragged in a way that suggests you had to be there to fully appreciate it. That pretty much sums up the album as a whole: The music is pleasant enough while the record is playing, but it just drifts away when the needle rises from the turntable.

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