In short, this is one hell of a comeback.
Jon Lusk 2007-09-19
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.