There’s a fair few of us out here who’ve been carrying a torch for this lady since 1968. Catch us at our most passionate and we’ll claim that there’s really only two sorts of singer-songwriter: Joni Mitchell and the rest. Mind you, maintaining that argument got a little dodgy there for a while, what with the overblown excesses of Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter and the portentousness of Mingus. No matter, because here she’s returned with her strongest and most accessible album since Court and Spark eight years back.
There’s nothing particularly innovating about it mind you. What may strike some folks as ‘new’ is that on two tracks—the title one and Elvis Presley’s ‘You’re so Square' — she positively rocks out. No, what Mitchell has basically done is take many of the best things about such albums as The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Hejira, Don Juan, Shadows and Light and combine them in one stunning package.
Far more tangibly melodic—i.e. there’s lots of hooks—than her last two or three albums of new material, the music here is underpinned by the exemplary basswork of Larry Klein, the only backing musician to feature on every track. (Klein is definitely post-Pastorius—Mitchell’s previous bass player—yet identifiably his own man.)
As one might expect after Mingus and Shadows and Light, a cool, flowing jazz style dominates the arrangements. Everyone performs beautifully, never overreaching or simply indulging themselves. (Even Lionel Ritchie wails like a real soul man.)
Mitchell’s own vocal flexibility has been evident for years—check her reworking of ‘Both Sides Now’ on 74’s Miles of Aisles—but never has it sounded so relaxed and assured. She has without doubt matured into a pop-jazz singer of exceptional polish and taste. (Keep practicing Rickie Lee Jones.)
If the lyrics—always an obsessive point with we cultists—remain on Mitchell’s favourite themes, her introspection is by and large less maudlin now and often laced with humour.
After 13 albums Joni Mitchell is not resting on her laurels. Rather she is an immensely sophisticated artist who can ignore trends and ‘waves’ because her talent, at its best, transcends them. Wild Things Run Fast is an album of the very highest order.
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Added to Library on August 1, 2023. (1492)
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