Joni Mitchell's new album "Court and Spark," on Asylum, indicates she's still the habitual unhappy one, tiptoeing in and out of love just enough to gather some material together for a new song.
"Court and Spark" is sadly engrossing. Joni Mitchell sings about her delicate condition as she's done previously, and by now it has to be wondered if she'll ever come to terms with her own dissatisfied heart.
Her Friday and Saturday concerts at the Berkeley Community Theater at 8 p.m. are sold out.
The new album begins with the title track, a small song about disassociation with a young street musician who turned up at her door carrying a sleeping bag. The title refers to the beginning of a love affair when feelings are both fresh and new.
"Help Me" is a little more likeable, sounding like one of Joni Mitchell's more familiar compositions and featuring those out-of-breath alternating couplets. It's light and bright and kind of breezy.
"Free Man in Paris" has a similar melody and "People's Parties" makes fun of entertaining. One song infers that business responsibilities leave her cold. The other mentions her often described inferiority complex.
In "The Same Situation" Joni Mitchell voices her bittersweet feelings about love and loneliness in a verbose manner. She seems to be acknowledging the fact she may end up an old maid.
Side Two is ultimately the more playable because it offers a little respite from the sadness that seems to occupy her life.
"Car on a Hill" is the album's best song. It's the story of Joni waiting up for her man, listening for his tires climbing up the hill. The arrangement is beautiful, with some delectable guitar playing by Wayne Perkins and some equally attractive background vocals.
"Down To You" is once more melancholy - "Everything comes and goes, Marked by lovers and styles of clothes" - but the song has a nice instrumental break with strings and reed instruments and the singer's piano playing is quite nice.
"Just Like This Train" is the album's second best song. It is light and lilting, one of those picture postcard tunes she can create so well. It ends with one of the most honest admissions I've heard recently, "Oh sour grapes. Because I lost my heart."
Next is "Raised on Robbery," the album's hubbahubba rocker. It is distinguished by the electric guitar of Robbie Robertson (of the Band) and the hard-nosed lyrics about an anxious, lady, meeting someone in a hotel bar. It begins with a great Andrews Sisters harmonizing verse and ends with, "Hey, where you going ... Don't go yet. Your glass ain't empty and we just met." Once again she's left holding the bag, but at least this time she's not all frail and meek about it.
"Trouble Child" could have been deleted, but the album closes on the upbeat with "Twisted," a novelty jazz tune about being crazy and trying to convince the analyst she's not. It was written by Ross and Grey and she gives, it a fine jumpy delivery.
"Court and Spark" should please those who cannot go for long without hearing something new from this sad young lady. The music is pretty satisfying. It's the lyrics that tend to weigh you down.
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Added to Library on December 29, 2006. (9033)
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