Monday, February 4, 2008

Two-Fer-Tuesday: Hooray, Joni Mitchell is Back!

One of the nicest things to happen in the last year was the reemergence of Joni Mitchell on the music scene.

For some time now, Mitchell had been focusing all of her energies on her thriving painting career. But last year, she put out an album called "Shine" consisting of songs that were rattling around in her brain and she felt compelled to record. It's a rather impressive collection for one of music's true originals. It's no Court and Spark (1974), but what possibly can be?

Rather than focus on that album, I thought I'd take a look at two other new releases featuring Mitchell's work.

The first is from Herbie Hancock's 2007 album, River: The Joni Letters, which is attempting to become the first jazz record since Getz/Gilberto (1964) to win the Grammy for Album of the Year.

The 67-year-old Hancock's 47th album features the legendary pianist collaborating with the likes of Leonard Cohen, Norah Jones, Tina Turner and Corinne Bailey Rae. And Mitchell herself, who rerecords one of her anti-war songs "Tea Leaf Prophecy" from 1988's Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm. In a way, it's a full circle for Mitchell, who collaborated with Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter on the experimental Mingus (1979)

Play "Tea Leaf Prophecy" by Herbie Hancock featuring Joni Mitchell

Hancock's, always so sensitive, seems especially captivating on this track. And, for that matter, on the rest of the album as well. Having sold a scant 40,000 copies, this outstanding release has been sadly overlooked by many. Hopefully, the publicity boost from the Grammys will bring it into more people's homes.

Many people – myself included, I have to admit – believe that Mitchell does herself a great disservice by continuing to smoke. It's a vice that she'll never give up, she told "CBS Sunday Morning" late last year. It's too bad. Because it not only cuts down on Mitchell's life expectancy, but also means that the quality of her voice will continue to go downhill.

Fortunately, we still have the old Joni around – specifically in another new release, The Best of The Johnny Cash Show, a compilation of some of the best cuts from the 1969-71 variety show hosted by Cash. It's actually a second attempt on the song by Cash, who collaborated with composer Bob Dylan in one of the show's early episodes. This duet, however, is something else. You have the sweet and pure voice of the early Mitchell with the rough and ready vocals of Cash in what was probably his prime. The original Cash/Dylan duet was a personal favorite of mine for many years, but I have to say this version surpasses it.

Play "Girl from North Country" by Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell

And here's the video, courtesy of YouTube.

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