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on 17 December 2002
What it is to grow old with grace. Joni Mitchell, who has always managed to marry emotional resonance with a puckish, mercurial quality, is not quite in the twilight of her years. Yet one senses that she knows that as a beacon for an intelligent, counter-culture, her days are done. And so to an affectionate and at times wistful look back to a career that has always seemed, both innovative and, as they say, 'fashionably late'. But having made classics, how can you possibly better them?
The rich orchestral tones of her last album, "Both Sides Now" caught many unawares. Here she follows the same formula, but applies it solely to her own back catalogue. Vince Mendoza's arrangements are a touch lighter and subtler than on "Both Sides..." and bring new depth to what was already a rich canon of songs.
I am not a die-hard Mitchellite, I slipped in for "Hissing..." and out after "Hejira", so I am coming fresh to songs that for many are, in their original versions, treasured classics. But the re-workings on the material I do know, are breathtaking. Strings and French horns turn "Woodstock" into a rich, graceful and epic lament. "God Must Be A Boogie Man" accompanied by a clarinet ensemble, strings and Wayne Shorter's soprano sax, dances in a darkly knowing way. A male voice choir unexpectedly pops up on "The Sire Of Sorrow" to add an edge of drama like the chorus in a Bach Mass. "Refuge of The Roads" opens with heavenly harp while "The Last Time I Saw Richard" features stunningly beautiful writing for a wind and strings ensemble. These versions may not better, but they are almost certainly deeper
Some may not take kindly to the slightly gruffer Mitchell voice, mellowed out and lacking an upper edge. Yet it has a gorgeous wispiness about, and frequently shot through with seeming lament for good-years-gone-by it has a kind of ever-present warmth.
Mitchell has given her select entourage of adoring fans much over the years. Reputedly this is her last-ever album. To close her career with a selection of her finest songs, lovingly and intelligently orchestrated and sung with a wistful tenderness, is a parting present almost beyond compare. "Nothing lasts for long" sings Joni on "Chinese Café before slipping seamlessly and briefly into "Unchained Melody". Pathos has seldom been so welcome.
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on 6 August 2005
I came to Joni late, being of the punk generation who were supposed to sneer at old hippies. 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns' turned me around and this album sealed my love for her. It's just pure class from beginning to end - as simple as that. Lyrics that blindside you with their insight at 4am, married to music that makes you want to hug strangers.
Joni may not have the octave-spanning soprano of old anymore, but the older, wiser voice is just as seductive. You feel you can learn something from this person.
Highlights include the double emotional punch of 'Refuge of The Roads' closely followed by 'Hejira'; the heart-tugging child abuse drama of 'Cherokee Louise': the weary reflections on growing old that is 'Chinese Cafe' (which includes a seamless segue into 'Unchained Melody') and the lyrical masterclass of 'Amelia'.
To listen to this album is to remind yourself of the possibilities of popular music; to not accept the lazy and formulaic, but instead to embrace the visionary and poetic. Take the time to listen and absorb and it will stay with you.
If this is to be Joni's swansong, then there is no better way to go out. If only I was older.
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on 4 January 2003
Joni Mitchell is a legend in the history of popular music. She is one of the most consistent performers of all time, and 'Travelogue', her 22nd release, is another classic.
Mitchell has been known recently to appear as a cranky old lady, with no positive comments for anything at all. But she is right about the state of modern music with all the bubblegum pop. 'Travelogue', a bulky set that reworks 22 of her compositions from 1968 to 1994, is not only a brilliant musical treat - the artwork is among Joni's best. The music is classy, stylish and elegant and much more focused than 2000's 'Both Sides Now' standards album. Maybe it is just that I prefer Joni Mitchell originals to classic jazz standards. But nevertheless, 'Travelogue' is one of 2002's underrated gems.
The critics have been eager to slaughter the album, which is very unfair. Most critics have been disappointed with Mitchell's deep, husky voice and the way that the songs have apparently "been reduced to dirges". The orchestra (and swinging band, as some people forget) bring out hidden layers in Joni's songs and they are revamped - so it is not as if you are spending your money on something you already own. Joni's paintings here have to be the best we've seen - her last few albums have concentrated equally on music and art, with 'Taming The Tiger' (1998), 'Turbulent Indigo' (1994) and 'Both Sides Now' (2000) all featuring pages of her paintings. CD One of 'Travelogue' takes you to an art gallery of Joni's paintings, and also features full lyrics, credits and audio clips.
'Travelogue' is a magical journey to take - don't take note of the critics (although some have championed the record). Now nearing her sixties, 'Travelogue' would be a perfect way to end her music career. It is stylish, sophisticated music and you should really investigate.
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on 26 November 2002
"No one said to Van Gogh, 'hey, paint 'A Starry Night' again, man...'" was Joni Mitchell's recorded response to audience requests on her 1974 live album Miles of Aisles. The intended comparison between the roles of the musical and visual artists came out as slightly pompous and patronising, but Mitchell's latest release validates her earlier opinion of the sort of company she should be keeping; with Travelogue she has in some senses painted her 'Starry Night' again.
Over two hours long, the double CD comprises reworkings of songs from Mitchell's catalogue, all the way from her first album in 1968 up to 1992's Turbulent Indigo, which apart from 1998's Taming The Tiger seems to have been the end of her interest in composing albums of new songs. There is adequate representation of all the periods of her work and I'm particularly delighted with three songs from the great Hejira and four from the underrated and subsequently ignored Wild Things Run Fast. It's unusual in this context of inclusiveness that there's nothing from The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, which many consider a career best and I can imagine would be well-served by the Travelogue approach.
The temptation when approaching a project like this is simply to compare the new versions with the older ones; it's harmless sport and will happen anyway, as the audience for this will mostly be existing and knowledgeable fans. But that would ignore the fact that Travelogue is an engaging and enjoyable album on its own terms - it's not, as may be feared, a "Joni'n'strings" softening of her greatest hits (so to speak.) We are presented with the full dynamic and tonal range of a symphony orchestra, usually deployed in a classical rather than big band style, with tone-poem arrangements by Vince Mendoza. This pleasantly strange frame for pop music suits Mitchell's voice well, as that voice now has the character of grainy, soft suede rather than the glassy purity of old. Its phrasing is sweetly hesitant, sometimes to the point of syncopation; the line "your life becomes a travelogue" (from Amelia,) which gives the album its title is delivered behind the beat, contrasting with the urgency of flight, the "urge for going" of the Hejira version. As well as the orchestra and choir, there are fine performances from Herbie Hancock, Billy Preston, Brian Blades, Larry Klein (who is also credited as musical director) and especially Wayne Shorter.
Although the tone colours of these versions are necessarily different from the originals, if you take a slice through any track and consider it, harmonically the structure will be about the same. Mitchell and her collaborators have pulled off the trick of remaining true to her original intent and have transliterated the often sparse old arrangements into parts for upwards of seventy musicians. On The Last Time I Saw Richard, for example, the nuances of the original solo piano accompaniment are mirrored by the orchestral arrangement, with Mitchell's vocal, now in a much lower register, conveying a mood of resignation rather than the desperation of thirty years ago.
The major and striking exception to this harmonic fidelity is the new version of The Circle Game, first demoed in 1966, released in 1970. No longer is it set as a child's sing-along nursery rhyme, charming as it was in that form; here, in a querulous minor key, it's a lugubrious rumination, the experienced artist looking back rather than the innocent child looking forward. Its placing as the last track reinforces the feeling throughout that this album is intended as a heavy piece of work, that Mitchell is making a grand statement - while not po-faced there is a sense of weightiness to all these performances. Sometimes songs which were relatively light in their original settings are improved by this approach, other times pieces which were originally impenetrable or ambiguous are clarified; God Must Be A Boogie Man, for example, is much clearer in intent now than on the wilfully difficult Mingus album.
A major addition, then, to a major body of work which is strangely undervalued. Hopefully the attention this release and its attendant documentary film attract will remind people of Mitchell's contributions to music over the last thirty-six years; even better, those who enjoy this album may be inspired to dig further.
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on 8 October 2004
I've been a fan of Joni Mitchell for years. I love the combination of her distinctive voice, thoughtful lyrics and accomplished musicianship, but I haven't really kept up with her more recent albums. I did buy Both Sides Now, but while I appreciated the musical arrangements, I didn't really connect with the songs.
Travelogue was a welcome, if unexpected revelation. Joni's voice has matured and lost some of it's range at the top end, but has developed a deeper and more weighty quality. The vocal style is more restrained, but no less vibrant, and she sings with precise diction and careful phrasing. Retaining the intensely intimate and personal quality that she brings to her best work, the overall effect is a richer, more poignant style which is perfectly complemented on Travelogue by a lush orchestral backing.
The songs are well-chosen to make the most of the combination of voice and orchestral arrangement, and display her formidable qualities as a lyricist. Few song-writers have her ability to write intelligent, intensely personal lyrics that resonate with the listener so effectively. The "standards" that she covers on Both Sides Now seem shallow and lightweight by comparison, and some of the tracks on Travelogue are profoundly moving.
Travelogue is a masterpiece, full of beautiful, thought-provoking songs with an orchestral backing that emphasises the depth and intensity of the lyrics. I've listened to it time and time again and it keeps getting better. Thoroughly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 15 December 2002
For travelogue, read epilogue, as Joni Mitchell has said that this will be her final album. She has also recently accused Madonna of kicking the importance of talent out of the arena and being manufactured. So Joni is leaving the stage with a flourish and a twist of the knife. At the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 she berated the audience for behaving like tourists. So her recent attack on Madonna will not surprise long-term fans who have known that her early flower child image belied a steely resolve. This collection spans her whole career, calling at most of her albums along the way. Her singular vision and pursuit of quality hit you from the beginning. Employing a 70 piece orchestra and 20 strong choir, songs from her back catalogue are dramatically reinterpreted. This can put tracks lifted from the early folky albums, such as "Dawntreader" from her debut "Song to a Seagull" in a remarkable new light. Other highlights in this respect include "Judgment of the Moon and Stars" from "For the Roses " and "Woodstock", which manages to transcend the potential contradiction between the hippy ideals of the lyrics and the distinctly unhippy new orchestral treatment.
With Joni Mitchell's many explorations into jazz territory, there was never a danger that this project would be a syrupy Mantovani-style folly. Her eclectic tastes ensure unexpected twists throughout, and other high points on the album come with the reworking of tracks like "Trouble Child" and "Refuge of the Roads" from classic seventies albums such as "Court and Spark" and "Hejira". Less happily, Joni Mitchell's vocals are not what they were in her heyday. She likes a cigarette, apparently, a lot of cigarettes, and her expressive tones and considerable range have suffered as a result. The orchestral backing can overwhelm in places too. For example, the original "Amelia" (from "Hejira") left you gazing in wonder at vapour trails. The version here holds you in the departure lounge, albeit one reserved for first-class passengers. It is also a shame that the "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" was overlooked when it came to track selection. Whilst "Lawns" met a mixed reception at the time of its release, it took Mitchell in challenging new directions, and a carefully structured piece like "Shadows and Light" would have lent itself well to the kind of reinterpretation employed here. Nevertheless there is plenty to surprise and delight, and "Travelogue" is an elegant curtain call from an unusually talented artist.
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on 4 December 2002
Joni Mitchell: Travelogue
What it is to grow old with grace. Joni Mitchell, who has always managed to marry emotional resonance with a puckish, mercurial quality, is not quite in the twilight of her years. Yet one senses that she knows that as a beacon for an intelligent, counter-culture, her days are done. And so to an affectionate and at times wistful look back to a career that has always seemed, both innovative and, as they say, 'fashionably late'. But having made classics, how can you possibly better them?
The rich orchestral tones of her last album, "Both Sides Now" caught many unawares. Here she follows the same formula, but applies it solely to her own back catalogue. Vince Mendoza's arrangements are a touch lighter and subtler than on "Both Sides..." and bring new depth to what was already a rich canon of songs.
I am not a die-hard Mitchellite, I slipped in for "Hissing..." and out after "Hejira", so I am coming fresh to songs that for many are, in their original versions, treasured classics. But the re-workings on the material I do know, are breathtaking. Strings and French horns turn "Woodstock" into a rich, graceful and epic lament. "God Must Be A Boogie Man" accompanied by a clarinet ensemble, strings and Wayne Shorter's soprano sax, dances in a darkly knowing way. A male voice choir unexpectedly pops up on "The Sire Of Sorrow" to add an edge of drama like the chorus in a Bach Mass. "Refuge of The Roads" opens with heavenly harp while "The Last Time I Saw Richard" features stunningly beautiful writing for a wind and strings ensemble. These versions may not better, but they are almost certainly deeper.
Some may not take kindly to the slightly gruffer Mitchell voice, mellowed out and lacking an upper edge. Yet it has a gorgeous wispiness about, and frequently shot through with seeming lament for good-years-gone-by it has a kind of ever-present warmth.
Mitchell has given her select entourage of adoring fans much over the years. Reputedly this is her last-ever album. To close her career with a selection of her finest songs, lovingly and intelligently orchestrated and sung with a wistful tenderness, is a parting present almost beyond compare. "Nothing lasts for long" sings Joni on "Chinese Café before slipping seamlessly and briefly into "Unchained Melody". Pathos has seldom been so welcome.
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on 2 December 2002
Let's be honest.....any new release form this most peerless of performers is going to have fans trembling with excitement, and if you're a fan (of any description) you'll probably be buying this soon, if you haven't done already! For those of you who are unsure...
You really should buy this album! It has two fantastic advantages...
Firstly, the packaging is a gem, really something to treasure. It consists of a plain lyric booklet, and also a thick hard-cover booklet containing both the CD's and pages of Joni's fantastic paintings, accompanied by snippets of lyrics from various songs.
Secondly, the music is something so new and so very hauntingly old at the same time....to tell you the truth on several occassions while listening to the album, I was half expecting Bing Crosby to burst in with 'I'm dreaming of a White Christmas' or any number of orchestra led songs of that era! Joni's voice is now deepened and mellowed, which may not be to everyone's tastes, but for me doesn't in any way detract from the beauty of the music. Still, despite this new huskiness, Joni still, on occassions, manages to reach those high notes with hardly any compromised clarity. Frankly, after several songs, I began to wonder what had happened to the verve and vivacity in some of the songs; this is definately not 'wake me up' music! Rather, it's music to work too, to have a dinner party too, or to relax too. The gentle lilting of the orchestra and the warmth of Joni's voice is a powerful relaxant.
There aren't many of what are considered Joni 'classics', instead I think Joni has opted for songs that would transfer well to orchestral accompaniment. The result is fabulous though, and not something to be rushed at, but rather to be enjoyed like a fine wine....
The music puts me in mind of a film score, but whereas the images are on the screen in a cinema, here the pictures are painted by Joni's lyrics.
Sit back, relax, enjoy.
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on 1 December 2002
Joni's new 2CD set is a 'must have' for fans of her music. This is her 22nd musical release, and, as always, is very welcome.
Joni's voice is no longer the same, age does that - along with cigarettes - and Joni can't hold her high notes like before. Nevertheless, what we hear on these CDs are mature versions of most of her renowned works.
These 3 tracks especially - 'Amelia', 'Judgement of the Moon and Stars' and 'Last Time I saw Richard' make us realise just how long we have loved Joni Mitchell for, how old we all are, and how much a part of our lives she has been, over the past thirty some years.
Listening to these tracks whilst reading the lyrics (in the interactive section - wait patiently for it to load!) is what I can only describe as a magical experience.
All songs are accompanied and played by the LPO (London Philharmonic Orchestra) and all of the musicians are named on the CD liner notes. Larry Klein has done an excellent job as co-producer.
As Joni says (in 'Judgement') - 'Show 'em you won't expire, not till you burn up every passion, not even when you die.'
A must have for Joni fans.
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on 3 March 2014
Well, this is a disappointment. Like others who've reviewed this, I've held off from listening to Travelogue for a long time since its release. I loved Joni's versions of standards with orchestra on Both Sides Now, but I wasn't expecting all that much from this. The choice of material is one reason for the apprehension; as someone has already mentioned, it includes some of her more unfortunately po-faced and melodically challenged songs from later albums (the appalling Yeats setting springs to mind). But the reality is worse than I imagined. The orchestration is mostly clunky and uncomfortable, obliterating the rhythm of the songs and removing rather than enhancing much of the melodic subtlety of the original versions. On the plus side, the voice holds up very well for the most part, but this pleasure apart it's an exercise in superfluity. It's a shame that the latter part of Joni's recording career is littered with misjudgements such as this double CD, the rather pointless themed compilations and the even more pointless Hits and Misses. If you don't know Joni's music and want to know what the fuss is about, don't start here. Anything from the beginning through to the marvellous Mingus should electrify you, while the 1980s' and 1990s' albums all contain moments of genius right through to the final flowering of greatness on Turbulent Indigo.
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