I've been putting off a review of this album for a couple of weeks; not that I don't like her music, but a double LP Joni Mitchell release takes some time to absorb. Seldom do I find myself liking or disliking her material on a first-impression basis. On this album especially she is not concerned with tunes you can grasp the first time around and hum along with. On some cuts, her guitar is little more than a rhythm instrument over which her voice weaves the whole melody. But even then, she avoids the catchy-sound technique, opting for intonation patterns instead.
My usual gripe with two-record sets is that the material doesn't justify such length. Select cuts from Don Juan's Reckless Daughter would have made for a decent single record, but even so, the whole sound throughout this release is an unhurried one that fits a more prolonged format. Not that every cut is going to be a favorite, because there are slow spots that drag somewhat.
Though her backup is significant, Joni dominates the album. For instance, Jaco Pastorius' bass is quite noticeable, but mainly in contrast to Joni's light strumming and clear singing. This makes for an interesting touch on cuts like "Cotton Avenue," and the title track.
There are those who get burned out on Joni's introspective lyrics, which is understandable. On the other hand, this album does see some truly first-rate lyrics. And when she manages to pull her words and music together without sacrificing the latter, she come up with some fine songs, like "Talk To Me" and "Otis And Marina [sic]."
Unfortunately, "Paprika Plains," which comprises one whole side, matches good lyrics with a rather lackadaisical piano lead on Joni's part. Towards the end, the music picks up somewhat, but for the first twelve or so minutes it is dominated by a moody piano line that just can't carry the song for anywhere near as long as it tries to.
A Jamaican rhythm suits Joni well on "Dreamland," and the acoustic guitar on "Silky Veils of Ardor" makes it a cut to listen closely to. There is one recurrent part that is quite appealing, and the way she glides over it makes the song as a whole an intriguing if understated close to the album.
Though the material is quite identifiable as that of Joni Mitchell, there is more to it than Joni accompanying herself on guitar. Personally, I would like to have seen her give her backup musicians an even greater part, because the album as a whole has a strange tone of understatement throughout. The title on the cover suggests more of an adventurous spirit than the vinyl inside offers.
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