11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 13 October 2007
Shine is the long awaited Joni Mitchell LP. In terms of anticipating what was to come from Joni, there is one surprise. The surprise is that on this LP there is no inward looking at self. Instead, Joni turns her attention to the environment, the misuse of science, the politics of selfishness, and domination through war. With only ten tracks on the LP, it was bound to be an ambitious task to address these huge issues satisfactorily.
The stance that Joni is going to take towards the themes of the LP is set out from the beginning with the 4 minutes and 58 seconds instrumental piece, "One Week Last Summer". In a brief explanation of the inspiration behind the piece Joni, in an oblique manner, outlines her stance on the the themes the LP raises. But this is not to suggest that there are hiden aims on this LP. On the contrary, in the main Joni is direct and to the point. She is critical of modern society and this is nowhere more telling than in "Bad Dreams". In this song Joni delivers some harsh words - for example, "The cell phone zombies babble/Through the shopping malls/While condors fall from Indian skies/Whales beach and die in the sand".
The suggestion that the songs on this LP represents Joni's stance about the environment is underpinned by the fact that Joni does a lot on the LP. The music is composed, arranged and produced by her. The lyrics are composed by her except for "If" and she plays many of the instruments. One could not help but wonder if Joni was showing off her considerable talents or keeping down production costs.
Certainly, Joni's talents extend to ambitious daring. The reprise of "Big Yellow Taxi" on this LP is quite apt. It fits in with Joni's evironmental concerns. It was also quite visionary and appropriate to end the LP with the setting of Rudyard Kipling's "If" to music. Here it seems to me that Joni attempts to deliver a message to each of us about the standard of behaviour that is expected.
Nonetheless, Joni's extensive involvement in producing this LP does not detract from the contribution of the small ensemble of muscians who produce a rich mixture of sound. Greg Leisz pedal steel gives a subtle country feel to many of the tracks such as "This Place" and "If I had a Heart". Then there is the melodious sweet sound of Bob Sheppard's soprano saxophone which is very prominient on "Hana". The percussive sounds of Brian Blade, Larry Klein and Paulinho DaCosta connect this LP to some of Joni's past LPs such as the "Hissing of Summer Lawns".
The message of this LP is timely and important but I cannot say that it gripped me. The reason is quite simply that Joni's lyrics are not as powerful as they once were. On some of Joni's previous LPs the lyrics were quite arresting. I would replay tracks asking myself what was that saying.
The lyrics also lack the sophistication of some of Joni's great songs. For example, lines from the title track "Hejira" from the 1976 LP, such as: "Well I looked at granite marker/Those tributes to finality - to eternity/And then I looked at myself here/Chicken scratching for my immortality". On this LP the lyrics are more direct and straight to the point. This is nowhere more in evidence than on the title track "Shine". This I suppose is to be expected given the main concerns of the LP.
The delivery of the songs suggests that the range and reach of Joni's voice is now fixed in the lower register but this is not a criticism rather it is just a mark of passing time.
For me "Shine" does not rank among Joni's great LPs but nonetheless it is a refreshing return by Joni Mitchell to the popular music scene that is lacking great talent. If you are a Joni Mitchell fan, as I am, you will most likely enjoy this LP. However, if you are coming to Joni's music for the first time then you will have to be patient in getting to appreciate it.
55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
A while back, Joni Mitchell announced her retirement. She'd found and become reconciled with the long-lost daughter she'd given up for adoption in the 60s, and had no more need to run the gauntlet of a corrupt music industry for the sake of writing songs. The composer of "Both Sides Now", "Woodstock" and "Hejira" fell silent.
However, her seclusion didn't last. As she told a recent interviewer, ""I tried to keep my legs crossed, but it didn't work." Enter an unlikely ally in the form of multinational coffee chain Starbucks, whose Hear Music label has recently tempted other ancient luminaries such as Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan into signing new album deals. The result is Shine, the delayed follow-up to 1998's "Taming the Tiger".
The album begins wordlessly. "One Week Last Summer" is an instrumental evocation of a numinous time when "the piano beckoned for the first time in ten years". But when the songs proper begin, Mitchell's words can still bite - "money makes the trees come down/it turns mountains into molehills".
There's little of the old romantic confessional in these songs of later life. Instead, she's decided to "put some time into ecology", as she hinted she might so long ago in 1976's "Song For Sharon". Like the wordless movie Koyaanasqatsi, "Shine" is a chronicle of a world out of balance: a world where technology threatens to vanquish nature, where "cellphone zombies babble through the shopping malls", where we are all but consumed in "the jaws of our machines". For Mitchell, we live on a planet we are slowly poisoning, and in "Bad Dreams" she expresses her deepening disgust in the vocabulary of a modern plague: "we live in these electric scabs, these lesions once were lakes". There's even a reworking of "Big Yellow Taxi", her 1970 warning against environmental catastrophe.
As always, her lyrics can read badly off the page but make sense in terms of a kind of musical conversation as soon as she scoops them up inside that voice. It's still the elastic instrument it always was, although its youthful purity has been roughened and aged by tobacco.
Her melodies are the strange and rambling things they always were, guided by her own individual logic: this time she's chosen to do all the arrangements herself, with just a little instrumental help from her friends - including ex-lovers James Taylor and Larry Klein. There's an endearingly eccentric (or is it ironic?) touch in her use of a drum machine which sounds as though it came out of the same technological ark as Atari and Space Invaders, but in her hands it somehow works. Such are mavericks.
Shine isn't perfection. "Night Of The Iguana"'s Latino jazz is a little too coffee-table and there are rambling moments elsewhere. High points include "Shine", the deeply compassionate title track, and "Strong and Wrong" - a wry, punning comment on conflicts such as Iraq. "Men love war/that's what history's for/a mass-murder mystery/his story"
All in all, though, this is a moving, subtle and clear-sighted piece of work. Mitchell remains thoroughly true to her past; still a lady of the canyon. If it takes the multinational coffee dollars of Starbucks to bring us integrity in these less than innocent days, well, then, so be it.
43 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on 25 September 2007
The sparse, poetic, beautiful 'Shine' is Joni Mitchell's first album of new songs in almost a decade, and it does not disappoint.
Lyrically she is, as always, completely self-assured, the new songs ranking alongside such mid-1970's classics as 'Court and Spark' and 'Hejira', although the themes are very different; most of the songs here focus on environmental and political issues rather than the search for love. One of my favourite lyrics is from the title track:
'Shine on the pioneers
Those seekers of mental health
They travelled inward
Brilliant, and pure Joni.
Musically 'Shine' is a much sparser affair than anything we have seen from her in the 1980's and 1990's; most of the songs feature Joni herself on piano (and occasionally guitar), with ex-husband Larry Klein on bass and Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar. The result is that listening to the album is a much more intimate affair than anything she has done since her mid-1970's heyday.
'Shine' is a testimony to Joni Mitchell's unparelleled songwriting ability, and shows that she has certainly not run out of things to say. It sure is good to have her back.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 September 2014
After nine years of silence Joni comes out with a new album. I have thoroughly enjoyed her previous journey through her classic songs, setting them to a classical base. So what could we expect from her 17th studio album. Sadly the answer is "a great disappointment." It really does sound like Joni has run out of ideas and any amount of marketing hype telling us that this is a return to form, a vital album and Joni on top form is just simply marketing hype. The voice is still there, perhaps deeper than in the great days, but the lyrics are becoming trite.
There's only so many times that you can rail against abuse of the environment. Sadly Joni has reached saturation level on this subject and the whole concept has become dated. In other words she has nothing more to say on the subject, however many interviews to the contrary she does. The album lacks ideas and that's pretty much illustrated by a new version of Big Yellow Taxi that gives us nothing new apart from a couple of new lines that includes changing "They took all the trees and put em in a tree museum and they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them into "They took all the trees and put em in a tree museum and they charged all the people an arm and a leg to see them."- wow it's scarcely pulitzer prize re-writing, but it does sum up the lack of originality here.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A little late in the day to be sure sure but with good reason.
I wasn't sure I wanted to hear it but having bought the album
it then took me a good year to absorb its' wily charms.
'Shine' is a conceit of a sort you see.
The languidly marvelous orchestral excesses of'Both Sides Now' (2000)
and 'Travelogue' (2002) notwithstanding it has been almost
a decade since the last recording of new and original material and
'Taming The Tiger' (1998) could never be seen to have been a high point
in Ms Mitchell's long and illustrious career.
Having 'retired' from the business of strumming and singing in
2002 her muse lay dormant for a while but we can be glad that
she has set her paintbrushes aside and that those deep, dark internal
stirrings have once again percolated slowly to the surface in the shape
of 'Shine' - a late autumnal flowering and a far more worthy testimony
to the strange genius of one of the greatest writer/performers ever to
have blessed both our ears and our lives.
'Shine' is a very precious thing indeed.
Ten tracks - Eight new songs, an instrumental overture and one
canny reworking. Coming in at a little under 50 minutes the album
displays neither economy nor excess. Everything feels as if it is
in its' rightful place.
Environmental Destruction ( 'This Place' ); War ( 'If I Had A Heart' &
'Strong and Wrong' ) and Hope ( 'Shine' and 'If' ). Big Themes.
These compositions rank with the very finest she has produced.
The shuffling latin rhythm of 'Hana' ( a close musical cousin
to 1991's 'Cherokee Louise' );
the spare pathos and beauty of 'Bad Dreams';
the exotic, energizing grandeur of 'Night Of The Iguana';
the luminous relevance of 'Big Yellow Taxi' undimmed and undeterred.
Title track 'Shine' is nothing less than sublime.
This great lady's music had formed an important part of the soundtrack
to my life ( many of our lives very probably! ).
This latest installment represents a magisterial return to form.
Perhaps it may be too much to hope for further chapters
but we, like she, should always live with hope.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 15 October 2007
If you're expecting this album to showcase Joni Mitchell taking a completely new direction after a 5 year hiatus, you might end up feeling disappointed.
This album treads a similar path in production and feel to Joni's other more recent offerings, particularly Chalk Marks in a Rainstorm. The album's orchestration has some of the melacholic brooding that was apparent on her career re-working 2002 album Travelogue. If you enjoyed that, you will revel in the beauty of this new album.
The standout title track, Shine, is a bit similar to Fourth of July in its peering into fire flames enveloping thoughtfulness, but this time it is not so much concerned with the personal, as it is with the state of humanity and the planet, at this perilous time. It's a seven minute prayer for spiritual uplift to come to all those places where there's despair and darkness.
Yes, it's a protest album, but in quite a subtle, artful way, that elder hippie states people like Joni, Bob Dylan and George Harrison seem to make so well, pointing out the callousness, greed and stupidity abounding today. "We have poisoned everything, and are oblvious to it all..." she sings on the beautiful lament Bad Dreams.
It's very appropriate to have a cajun tinged re-working of Big Yellow Taxi - was this the first ever eco-themed song?!
This album just gets better with every listen. It demands to be played as a whole, and provides some 45 minutes of restorative solace and aural splendour for our troubled spirits in this modern world - despite its heavy themes, it gives so much more as well.
Joni is one of the most significant artists of the last 50 years, and we are immensely fortunate to have her musically active again. Now we just need to get her back to doing some live shows...
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A brand new record by Billie Holliday? Janis Joplin? Previously unknown tapes of Robert Johnson? Miles Davis to tour? I'd believe it.
A new record by Joni Mitchell? Never! I'd long discounted the likelihood. She'd left the music behind and repaired to the studio to paint the rest of her days away. I rationalised it away by deceiving myself anything new would just be a disappointment.
And now this.
The sticker on the case almost has it. "One of the greatest singer/songwriters of our time." One of? Where did that come from? This is the woman who defined a generation in one song, Woodstock. The kind of feat reserved for the likes of Shelley in its brevity, perception and clarity.
And the spark is still there.
This is most definitely not the yodelling hippy chick of the 60s, though she does revive Big Yellow Taxi, this time accompanied by accordion so she sounds like she may be busking on the Champs Elysee. It's also not the Joni from my personal favourite period spanned by the jazz-inflected material on Shadows and Light.
The subject matter tends toward the political in the way BYT was - a little outraged, indignant - and which really began to find its voice with Dog Eat Dog. The feel and sound is more Sex Kills, although Strong And Wrong initially had me thinking of Blue.
At this stage of the game, I'd have been happy with a remake of Wild Things Run Fast, my very least favourite Mitchell album. What I think we have here is somewhere in the middle of the range - on a par with Taming The Tiger, maybe.
There are people who would sever their own right arm to be that good for just five minutes. Joni Mitchell's now been doing it that good or better for five decades. A beautiful addition to the tradition.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 24 September 2007
When I hear Joni's voice my spine tingles and the tears flow as my bottom lip quivers. Lines like 'some girl's gonna see that dress and crave that day like crazy' on Song for Sharon always affect me that way 'last night I dreamed I saw the planet flicker great forests fell like Buffalo everything got sicker' from The three great stimulants has the same effect. I have always thought it was just some peculiar thing about her voice and the way my brain is wired. Of course the emotion that informs all her work must have something to do with it too. Well today 24 September 2007 I just received her latest album Shine and I have listened to it once so far and the first track One week last summer, which is an instrumental had my eyes streaming and I realised it is more than just the sound of her voice that affects me so profoundly it is clearly the music as well. I am a fan of Joni Mitchell I love Hissing of summer lawns, Hejira, Mingus, Blue and have always thought that she is an artist who will endure down the years. There was a sticker on the new CD shine which says 'The radiant return of one of the greatest singer/songwriters of our time' quite a claim. I was ready to be disappointed - but I had no need to worry. As I say the first track is instrumental on the second she sings but naturally her voice reflects the passing years and keeps to lower registers but this is only an old friend teasing us track three 'If I had a heart' is vintage Joni her voice just as powerfully evocative as ever. Before playing the CD I read right through the accompanying booklet which starts with a few words about the inception of 'A week last Summer' and is then just the lyrics for each of the 9 other songs. I could hear in my minds ear the sound of Joni's voice as I read the lines and once again was moved to tears 'I feel like Geronimo I used to be as trusting as Cochise but the white eyes lies he's out of whack with nature' had my bottom lip quivering. (It is not that I am an overly emotional person or weep at the drop of a hat as I tried to indicate earlier I have always experienced it as a physical phenomena in response to Joni Mitchell's unique voice. Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Child has a similar effect on me as does Miles Davis' Trumpet playing, The Grateful Dead also touch me deeply)
When she first began Joni was often only accompanied by her own acoustic guitar or piano and might have been pigeonholed as a 'Folk singer' as her career progressed the sound of the music evolved to take in Jazz and Rock but never lost it's essence. Tracks 1 - 3 are more reminiscent of her earliest sound then the first few bars of track 4 'Hana' instantly have a contemporary Hip Hop break-beat drum machine feel but once again it her inimitable personal style.
In short this is a wonderful album for long time fans and I think would be a very great album if it was the debut of a preciously unknown artist and remained the only thing she ever released.
The final track is an adaptation of Kipling's famous poem 'If' with the permission of Kipling's estate she has amended the final lines and added a coda of her own.
This record is a commentary on contemporary life and the choices before us if the world is not to change irrevocably before our eyes and an exhortation both chiding and inspiring us to accept the challenge, to shine our own individual light, and an affirmation that we can rise to it. As the album ends she sings 'I know you'll be alright... you've got the fight you've got the insight.
Oh and BTW there is a 2007 version of 'Big Yellow Taxi' the song that my have been the first anthem for the environmental movement.
If all the foregoing sounds a bit too heavy for you don't worry it is a great album of music and song it is just that if you listen hard to the words it might make you think a bit too.
You'll be alright. You'll be alright.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2007
I love Joni Mitchell, her music and all she has achieved in her career. Full stop. Her influence and status in modern music is unquestioned and also fully earned. When she announced her retirement in 2002 it was a sad day for music. Five years on, she returns with 'Shine'. This album kicks off with an instrumental 'One week last summer' which seems edgy. You just want to her to enter stage left and start singing. Tracks like 'If I had a heart', the title tarck 'Shine' and 'If' are very emotional songs. You are drawn in and feel the whole thing. I know this sounds cheesy but she has that ability to make you laugh and cry in the same song; that's genius. May she live forever and hopefully this won't be her last album. She sounds great; we love her. This album will do well and will be seen as up there with her best in years to come.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 9 October 2007
So many critics just don't 'get' Joni Mitchell. They are too steeped in 'the starmaker machinery behind the popular song'. Recent reviews of this C.D. bend a knee to Mitchell's unique position amongst female song-writers but the response is luke-warm with absurd comments such as 'too much brass' or 'under-produced' or a lecture from an aunt. Much of these comments are either age-ist or plainly inaccurate. I have yet to read a review which recognises that Mitchell is a perfectionist and a conscious artist. I loved the C.D. which grew in delight as I listened to it - often the mark of subtle writing. One critic even criticised a line from one of her lyrics in which she uses colloquial ellipsis without realising Mitchell's strong sense of irony and humour. Joni has been misunderstood before but it would be nice to see her reviewed by someone who could appreciate her wit, subtle touches and ability to make us think and feel. Some critic commented that this C.D. is not going to change the world - what CD could? What a misunderstanding about what art can do ? Her music has always reflected her generation and she has been clear in placing her fingers on the pulse of the time. Art changes things by degrees and shines a light on things which might remain unsaid. By saying things the world can be a better place and it is certainly a better place because of Joni mitchell's music. The snide remarks about Starbucks are so easy and unnecessary. It is so easy to be cynical but in doing so you can miss the jewels of life. Shine on.