Regarded at the time as a slightly over ambitious follow up to the much-loved Hejira, this is probably the most neglected album in Joni Mitchell's canon. Originally a double-album with each side a complete suite of songs (side 2 devotes exclusively to Paprika Plains), its one hour running time sits comfortably on a single CD, though maybe it wasn't intended to be heard in a single sitting. Judging from the lyric to the title track, and the pictorial and verbal allusions to American Indians, it would seem that the Don Juan of the title refers to the Yaqui Indian shaman of Carlos Castaneda, with Joni's self-image recast through childhood and dreams as a recurring motif in the songs.
Chaka Khan, Jaco Pastorius (on top form) and members from Weather Report (including Wayne Shorter), LA Express and the Eagles are among the main contributors but are all held very much in a supporting role to Joni's controlling vision. Jericho and the superb Dreamland were already familiar in other versions, but there had never been anything like Paprika Plains before - a 16-minute suite orchestrated by Michael Gibbs which begins as a conventional song but spirals into an impressionist painting in sound, with libretti not sung but printed in the accompanying booklet. The African drumming led by Airto, which informs Dreamland, also propels The Tenth World, the album's most unusual cut, on which Airto again plays surdo, Jaco Pastorius plays bongos and Manola Badrena plays congas and coffee cans and leads the wordless chorus consisting of Joni Mitchell, Chaka Khan and percussionists Don Alias and Alejandro Acuna.
The album is equally effective on unadorned songs such as the beautiful, traditional sounding closer, Silky Veils Of Ardor, on which Joni is accompanied only by her own guitar.
That this album is not considered a masterpiece can only be because of the very strong competition offered by some of her other, more commercially successful albums.
on 28 November 2002
I’ve never really understood why this album gets such a bad press. Okay, it's not as accessible as much of Joni Mitchell's other work but give it a chance and you'll learn to love it. There is such passion and mystery in the lyrics, and the subtlety of the guitar, which, coupled with Jaco Pastorius' orchestral bass sound, rings through on every song - bar the one predominantly solo piano one.
Some criticize it technically for borrowing riffs from "Hejira" but I’d say, so what, she wrote them in the first place and when your’e picking on an open or DADGAD tuning, there's only so many new shapes you can come up with.
She released the album in 1977 and much of what came after is lightweight, lacking both the melodic and poetical depth of this out-on-a-limb work.
Go on, let it grow on you!
Joni Mitchell`s no more an old folkie than Bjork, Kate Bush or Rickie Lee Jones. Her first LP was a slightly twee but lovely collection of lyrical songs, while her next few albums gave notice that here was a unique talent.
Later on we got such marvellous offerings as The Hissing of Summer Lawns and Hejira - and then, in 1977 (so long ago!) this often exquisite album of enchantments.
Joni casts a rare spell. She always has. She is a supremely intelligent, lyrically brilliant, musically beyond reproach artist whose genius has merely become more unarguable as the years have gone on.
This is not my favourite Joni album, but it has its own charms and dazzling digressions. Following Hejira was no easy call, and you get the impression she was on a roll after the `strangeness` of that wondrous album and Summer Lawns, pushing one or two boats out.
I don`t find that this one has quite the immediacy of its predecessors, but it`s still an essential work in the Mitchell canon.
After three rather beautifiul songs, we have the audacious sixteen minutes of Paprika Plains, and I wouldn`t have it any other way. Joni had toyed with lengthy numbers before - particularly on Hejira - but nothing on this scale. It comes off triumphantly.
The only track I could have done without is the seven-miniute The Tenth World, an instrumental relying on an array of percussion to make its somewhat laboured point. There`s no reason why a singer shouldn`t include an interlude such as this in the middle of an album, but I`m not a great fan of untrammelled percussion, and I can`t help feeling the album would have been just as succinct and coherent without it.
The rest of the songs are pretty much vintage Joni, in her `voodoo princess` role, if you will. She seems to have been as fascinated by the various musics of the world as Paul Simon was, though taking a very different musical stance.
The more I play this set of songs - which I came to much later than many of her albums - the more I like it. And that`s what counts.
My four-star rating is more relative to Joni`s output as a whole than to its intrinsic relative worth. Anything this remarkable artist has done is worth anybody`s time.
on 2 March 2006
In Don Juan's we find Joni has reached the climax of her journey combining the outstanding wordsmith-ery of folk, and the improvisational soulfulness of jazz. This album, understandably, is not anywhere near as accessable as Joni's earlier work, but like the best art, it is something to be unlocked, to be discovered, and one's efforts reap massive rewards!
For me, Joni has never written better lyrics than on Don Juan's, take for example the song 'Talk to me', decribed in an earlier review as 'banal', it is a song of pleading, from Joni to a taciturn lover:
Is your silence that golden?
Are you comfortable in it?
Here Joni takes the phrase 'silence is golden', and develops it wonderfully, with a continuing reference to 'gold':
Are you gagged by your ribbons,
Are you really exclusive or just miserly?
You spend every sentence as if it were marked currency,
Come and spend some on me;
Shut me up and talk to me!
Here is poetry, poetry not matched by Dylan, or Cohen, and originality above and beyond her peers. Other lines, in the symphonic 'Paprika Plains', are worthy of being quoted alongside the work of the greatest of poets:
When I was three feet tall
And wide eyed open to it all
The rain retreats, Like troops
To fall on other fields and streets
Joni is undoubtedly at the height of her lyrical ability here. And as if that weren’t enough, she sets her poetry to music, and what music! I know of no other popular musician who has the architectural vision of Mitchell when constructing her songs and albums. Take the first track, Overture/Cotton Avenue – a chorus of differently tuned guitars slowly strum and pick their way through Joni’s beautiful harmonies, lightly building up to what turns out to be a good old boogie. We then travel through Talk to Me, which, however odd to the ear, is unarguably original, and has a wonderful narrative, then onwards to Jericho, a very moving musical sigh, and through to Paprika Plains. To some, Paprika Plains is an inexcusable waste of vinyl and time, though, since the first time I lay back on a sunny afternoon and played it, I have been in love with this sweeping orchestral track. The album is very much concerned with the idea of dreams, which could be thought of as its ‘theme’, and in Paprika Plains Joni quite explicitly lays out a 16 minute reverie about her life, complete with un-sung images in the form of lyrics, printed on the album cover. When after the long, improvised, orchestral interlude, the rhythm returns and Joni starts singing again, it is with a relieving sense of waking up. Otis and Marleena follows with a palpable change of mood, and a memorable melody, and continues through to The Tenth World, and Dreamland, both, experimental tracks, oozing with style, and continuing the ‘dream’ theme. The title track is next, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, with obvious similarities to the songs from Hejira. This track has had many criticisms levelled at it, including its similarities to Hejira, and that its theme, the battle between head (eagle) and heart (snake) is tiresomely overused. This is to speactacularly miss the point! That a song should have a theme that is repeatedly repeated is, well, quite normal actually, and Mitchell is able to inject fresh life into it each time it appears. Then there are the wonderful lines:
Here in good-old-god-save-america,
The home of the brave and the free,
We are all hopelessly oppressed cowards
Of some duality
Of restless multiplicity
Which move seamlessly into a jaggedly harmonic quoting of the first line of the american national anthem, “Oh say can you see”, before continuing with the song. This and many other things make Joni stand out as an artist. Dylan may have 40 albums and 500 songs, but the 20 or so albums that Joni has written have the advantage of the thought that has gone into them. Next is Off Night Backstreet, a song brimming with bitterness, from the dissonant chorused harmonies, brash instrumentation, and razor sharp lyrics:
I can feel your fingers
Feeling my face
There are some lines you put there
And some you erase
Joni rounds off the album with a delightful cautionary ballad, hearkening back, not only to the folk era, but into the distant past of wandering minstrels. This track is by far the easiest to listen too, it has a sweet melody, and soft singing from Joni, and some of her most assured guitar work. In addition, it is, musically, connected to the opening track. In it she continues her lyrical tour-de-force:
Come all you fair and tender school girls
Be careful now--when you court young men
They are like the stars
On a summer morning
They sparkle up the night
And they're gone again
Astounding stuff. But it is an album that requires patience, an attribute in short supply in today’s musical climate. It doesn’t surprise me that many don’t rate this very highly. Fortunately for them there are myriads of popular musicians stuck in the five bar blues idiom of unoriginality and lyrical regurgitation. For the rest of us, we have Joni and Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter…
on 15 July 2001
Joni's creative peak arguably started with "Court and Spark" to the beautiful "Hejira". What came next is "Don Juan's...". On first hearing one felt that Joni's songcraft started to take a little tumble, creating an impression that her muse had taken leave for a while (two songs here are mere recycles of the "coyote" guitar riff) Nevertheless, what we have here is still worth investigating, and over time you'll find that you'll can't help but give it a spin, purely on the basis of its strangeness, rather like a moth to a light. There are many songs that shine here: "cotton avenue", "talk to me" "off night backstreet" and while "paprika plains" is maybe 6 minutes too long, it still has a magnetic charm with its cinematic scope (despite the odd cumbersome piano and under-rehearsed strings!!) Joni at times sounds languid,worn-out,cynical... as if her previous three albums squeezed out every drop of emotion and inspiration. But, that said, she sounds as if she's still giving it her best under the circumstances. Her vocals, and Jaco Pastorius gorgeous bass, is enough to swoon over and encourage you to keep listening. Overall, this album is a must-buy for the fan, even the casual ones. Though make sure you part your money with "the hissing of summer lawns", "hejira" and "blue" first before you get acquainted with this reckless daughter. Chances are though,since you're reading this, you probably have already done so. In that case, go and buy it and prepare yourself for sixty minutes on a strange,bizarre,compelling,enigmatic,world-weary journey. You'll get the drift of it all eventually, and you'll reach out for it again and again!! You could do worse and buy "dog eat dog" after all.
I've owned Don Juan's Reckless Daughter on vinyl for about 35 years and it's always eluded me a little until a recent relisten. I'll explain the issues then how this was finally resolved through fresh perspective. At the time of release this was a double album and followed what, in my opinion are the pinnacles of Joni's career The Hissing Of Summer Lawns and Hejira. Both albums hang together beautifully and stylistically - Don Juan's Reckless Daughter doesn't, and that was the basis for my disappointment. It's taken me years to realise that it's actually a suite in four parts with each side of vinyl representing a movement. In the CD age this is harder to spot, but now I get it.
It's a much more experimental work, with most of the experimentation taking place on the original sides 2 and 3. Side 2 is taken up entirely by the longest work in Joni's canon, Paprika Plains. I initially found this a difficult listen at over 16 minutes long but now find it a work of astonishing breadth. Partly improvised, the piano based track is backed up by a full orchestra and points the way to later revisionist album Both Sides Now. Lyrically it it a first person telling of hopelessness, but includes instrumental passages unusually with lyrics reproduced but not sung indicating thoughts during a drunken, semi-concious state. It's a masterwork that has taken me some time to understand, and stylistically doesn't obviously fit easily if you are expecting an album that flows.
Side 3 is all about rhythm and features at its centre the instrumental, improvised piece The Tenth World. The writing credit is to each player, clearly showing the origins. Again, this was a departure for Joni, but if you listen to the side, beginning with Otis and Marlena and ending in the gorgeous drum and voice only Dreamland it makes more sense.
This leaves Sides 1 and 4, the more 'traditional' sounding sides, with Jaco Pastorius heavily featured as on Hejira, and certainly the easiest to get into if you came straight from Hejira to here. Starting off with Overture, this is an astonishing instrumental, played on six guitars courtesy of multitracking all tuned differently, in some cases very loosely which points the way towards Mingus. This blends into Cotton Avenue, an assured composition that occasionally breaks down into plaintive horns. Talk To Me is upbeat, acoustic guitar driven with Pastorius very notable. The side finishes with Jericho, originally heard on live album Miles Of Aisles but here in a radically different, mature presentation. This, together with the title track which opens side 4 were reasons why the album was cited at the time of release as a single album stretched to a double with old, rejected tracks, with Dreamland and Talk To Me also written years before according to the record sleeve. Don Juan's Reckless Daughter uses the same guitar passage as Hejira's Coyote, and indeed Mitchell has played both back to back in concert stating the latter was a sequel to Coyote. That Coyote is one of the best tracks from Hejira and thus we get effectively "Part 2" makes this, for me, an outstanding track on the album. The album closes with single Off Night Backstreet and the acoustic guitar led The Silky Veils Of Ardor.
Sides 1 and 4 are as good as anything on the previous two albums and indeed are a continuation.Sides 2 and 3 took me a little while to understand as they take the music in very different directions. An album well worth giving a second chance once you understand the concept better, misunderstood on initial listens it repays repeated listening.
on 5 February 2004
I have loved this 1977 album ever since I first heard it about four years ago. It has a very different feel than the 1976 album "Hejira" or the 1979 "Mingus" album. Jaco Pastorius' bass lines and fills (often brief overdubs of several basses filling) are dominant on most of the album. I love how the bass harmonics and high-pitched fills meet and complement Joni Mitchell's vocal effects. The overture is chilling.
Jaco uses a very rich and unusual sound on his bass here. This is an absolute MUST-LISTEN for Jaco fans. A lot of overdubbed voicings sneak in here and there. This had not been typical of Mitchell's early albums, and is one of the things that gives this one a special feeling. Another strength is the musicians. She is backed up by exraordinary artists, most of whom are best known from jazz and/or jazz-fusion bands. In addition to Jaco, Wayne Shorter (on soprano sax), drummer John Guerin, Alex Acuña, Don Alias, Manolo Badrena, and Airto (all on percussion) also contribute. Larry Carlton guests on guitar on "Otis and Marlena", and Chaka Kahn sings back-up on "The Tenth World" and "Dreamland". Joni plays guitar and piano equally on this album. Something that really distinguishes this from all her other 70's albums, is the 16+ minute title track; it features (in addition to Joni's voice, piano, and the band) an orchestra conducted by Michael Gibbs. The mood of the whole recording is really special. I believe the cover art suits the feeling very well. There's an interesting combination of freedom and what's obviously arranged, as well as an interesting combination if humour and seriousness. The performance is freer here than on "Hejira", but still strongly recommended to fans of that album and to people interested in enchanting musical performances and sounds.
on 15 July 2012
Let's start off to say, that this is the Joni Mitchell album that I listen to the most. Yes, Hissing of summer lawns' and 'Hejira' are more consistent/coherent, but 'Don Juan' is every bit the masterpiece it's predecessors were. Just maybe, 5 minutes of the album are not masterpiece worthy, and if you do not get Paprika Plains 20. It still leaves 40 minutes of pure genius... And as the proof of any pudding is in the eating, if I play this album more than other Joni masterpieces, what does that tell me?
on 28 January 2013
all of joni albums are great ,from her first 'song to a seagull ' right through to 'night ride home'. unfortunately after that i think she goes off the ball. this album is great . more instrumental and orchestrated than any other with joni on guitar and piano. it is also more jazzy, layed back and ambient. if you like joni you'll love this. its essential listening
on 2 October 2011
Being a devoted Joni Mitchell fan with all her albums I bought this one in 1978 and was a bit disappointed, coming after the superb Hejira. Like all double albums of that era (from Blonde on Blonde and The Beatles through Exile on Main Street to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Tales from Topographic Oceans etc)it takes a while to get into and sometimes there is just too much to take in until you've got to know it. The problem was that in 1978 the world had moved on and suddenly there was Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, XTC, Stranglers, Buzzcocks, Television and The Jam (to name but a few!) all clamouring to be heard with their instantly accessible albums of short sharp bursts of energy. The last thing I needed was a difficult experimental double album, even one from the beloved Joni, so after a couple of plays it went on the shelf where it has remained ever since, virtually unplayed. Recently, craving something new to listen to, I got it down and gave it a spin, and was astonished to hear how good it sounds. There are many tracks which are classic Joni Mitchell and much more interesting than the undeniably good albums she made through the 80s and 90s. This is the real deal from her most creative and productive period, a great artist at the height of her powers, with her voice and guitar sounding wonderful, and with magnificent support from the highly talented Jazz musicians around her, not least the unique tone of Jaco Pastorius' bass. This is timeless music of the highest quality which will continue to sound superb when most of the people in the list above are long forgotten. If you gave up on Joni after Hejira, do yourself a favour and get hold of this album - it is a treat waiting for you.