In 2002, Joni Mitchell--folk legend and creator of timeless albums like Blue, Hejira and The Hissing of Summer Lawns--went into retirement. Following the release of that years Travelogue album, she denounced the music industry and at the same time announced plans to pursue her other passion: painting. Shine, Mitchells 17th studio album and her first collection of new songs in almost a decade, is therefore something of a surprise. Inspired by the need to speak out against warmongering politicos and environmental myopia, Mitchell has written ten elegant, sparse songs that match idiosyncratic arrangements (think chamber folk merged with curious 80s drum sounds and painterly daubs of sax and guitar) with incisive lyricism and her classic story-telling technique. Opening instrumental "One Week Last Summer" sets an optimistic tone, but the album veers mostly between melancholy, introspection, bitterness and even misanthropy. Mitchells voice is more cracked than it used to be--but theres no denying her passion, nor her continued ability to write engaging tunes. -- Paul Sullivan
Shine, recorded and released in 2007, is the sign from the heavens that Joni Mitchell has come out of retirement. She left in the early part of the century, railing against a music industry that only cared about "golf and rappers," accusing it of virtually every artistic crime under the sun. So the irony that she signed to Hear Music, Starbucks' music imprint, is pronounced. The company has been embroiled in controversy over its labor and trade practices, and has been accused of union-busting and spying on its employees and union members. It's especially ironic given the nature of the music on this set, which is political, environmental, and social in its commentary. Hear Music has also issued recordings by Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan, so she's in great company. But it's music that we're after here, and Mitchell doesn't disappoint on this score. She doesn't have the same reach vocally that she used to. A lifetime of cigarette smoking will do that to you. But given the deeply reflective and uncomfortably contemplative nature of some of these songs, it hardly matters. Mitchell produced this set herself, and with the exception of guest performances -- saxophones by Bob Sheppard, steel guitar by Greg Leisz, some drum spots by Brian Blade, and bass by Larry Klein, all selectively featured -- Mitchell plays piano, guitar, and does all the other instrumentation and arrangements herself. The drum machine she uses is so antiquated that it's corny, but it's also charming in the way she employs it. The songs carry the same weight they always have. Her off-kilter acoustic guitar playing is as rhythmically complex as ever, and her commentary is biting, sardonic, and poetic. The set begins with a five-minute instrumental that would be perfect to accompany the images of the ballet dancers on the cover. "This Place," where her acoustic guitar, a synth, and the pedal steel are kissed by Sheppard's soprano saxophone, follows it. It's a statement of place, and the knowledge that its natural beauty is heavenly, but will not remain that way: "You see those lovely hills/They won't be there for long/They're gonna tear 'em down/And sell 'em to California...when this place looks like a moonscape/Don't say I didn't warn ya." She ends it with a prayer for the "courage and the grace/To make genius of this tragedy/The genius to save this place." It's hardly the standard pontificating of rock stars. Thank God. The next tune, "If I Had a Heart," with Blade, Klein, and Leisz, offers this confession: "Holy war/Genocide/Suicide/Hate and cruelty...How can this be holy?/If I had a heart, I'd cry." It's the acceptance of the dehumanization of the culture as well as the increasing uninhabitability of the planet, this resignation that's so startling even as these melodies take you to the places in Mitchell's songwriting we've always loved. The massive drum loops, didgeridoo samples, and bass throbs -- with additional percussion by Paulinho da Costa -- is a story-song that is meant to be a backbone, hands dirty working and improving things. It's haunting, as it hovers inside its groove with startling electric guitar distortion and effects. But only two songs later we move to "Big Yellow Taxi [2007 Version]." It's radically revisioned and reshaped. It's full of darker tones, soundscapes, an accordion sample, and a tougher acoustic guitar strum. What used to be a hummable if biting indictment of the powers that be, who wanted to develop every last inch of natural space, has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The exhortation to farmers is still there, but it's more a bitter reminder of the refrain. It's the only song here, and followed by the most beautiful cut on the entire set in "Night of the Iguana," a big, elegant, polyrhythmic allegory that features some of the greatest guitar playing Mitchell has ever done
Joni Mitchell was supposed to have retired from music after the release of Travelogue, the 2002 swansong album featuring orchestral versions of her own work. Her voice seemed cracked and tired then, so it's a relief to hear it sounding fuller once again on Shine, apparently restored by 'rest and some good healers'. It's her first new material since Taming The Tiger (1998), and the other good news is, the best thing she's done since her 1970s heyday, teeming with references to those golden years, which old fans will enjoy spotting.
A generally sparse and pleasantly varied set, Shine begins boldly with the instantly memorable, stop-start melody of chamber-folk instrumental 'One Week Last Summer', reminding us that Mitchell's 'voice' on piano is almost as recognisable as her vocal. It's also the first appearance by Bob Sheppard, whose graceful alto and soprano sax decorates the majority of tracks. With Greg Leisz's tangy pedal steel guitar and a sly reference to California, 'This Place' poignantly recalls the bittersweet charms of her classic 1971 album Blue and the piano riff at the heart of 'Bad Dreams Are Good' is eerily reminiscent of the title track on Court And Spark. Even so, there's a brasher, more contemporary musical palette on the snappy, almost drum 'n' bass-flavoured 'Hana', and the percussive momentum and squalling guitars of 'Night Of The Iguana'. Drummer Brian Blade is especially noteworthy here, while capable of great subtlety elsewhere.
'Big Yellow Taxi (2007)' is a sprightly revamp of her evergreen green anthem with a slightly updated lyric ('They took all the trees/ Put 'em in a tree museum/And they charged all the people/An arm and a leg just to see 'em'). Warmongering and the imminent environmental apocalypse are the overriding themes, though she broadens it into a wider range of subjects (lousy government, the church, etc) on the epic title track, which casts a painterly but largely despondent eye on the state of the modern world. But there's a feeling of resolution and even optimism - a journey completed - on the closing 'If'. In short, this is one hell of a comeback. --Jon Lusk
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2007 album and first proper studio album in almost 10 years! feat a reworked version of 'Big Yellow Taxi'