Sunday, August 22, 2021

 Don Juan's Reckless Daughter - Joni Mitchell (Asylum)

Listeners have taken joy in Joni Mitchell's continual insistence on changing her musical approach, so it was not unusual that the release of Hissing of Summer Lawns was hailed, for the most part, a bold step towards personal and artistic growth. Nevertheless, while Hissing and her subsequent and less successful Hejira did indeed show Mitchell expanding herself to more adventurous motifs - broader song structures, an increasingly impressionistic lyric scan, jazz textures - the trend toward a more personalized voice has virtually walled her off from the majority of her fans. Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, her new double record effort, takes the ground gained from the last two albums and converts it into a meandering, amorphous culmination of half-formed concepts. Musically, the stylistic conceit is towards jazz modernism, with several songs exceeding ten minutes in length as they ramble over Mitchell's vaguely comprehensible piano chords. She reveals a tendency to hit a strident chord and let the notes resonate and fade as she vocally ruminates over the lyrics - while her sidemen, Jaco Pastorious and Wayne Shorter from Weather Report, and guitarist John Guerin, do their best to add definition. 

The lyrics, in kind, are an impressionistic hodgepodge, a string of images, indecipherable references, and gutless epiphanies that needed a good pruning. While the more hard-nosed defenders may defend the latest with the excuse that a poet may express themselves in any way they see fit, one still has to question the worth of any effort to dissect Reckless Daughter the way one used to mull over Dylan albums. Though any number of matters that Mitchell chooses to deal with may have value to her audience - spiritual lassitude, the responsibilities of freedom, sexuality into Middle Ages - she does not supply anything resembling hooks, catchphrases, or access points, of ' reference to steady the voluminous diffusion of the stanzas. Instead, she gives them art, whether they like it or not. The paradox in Mitchell's idea has thrown craft well outside the window while measuring up to "Art" in the upper case. She has gone from being an artful songwriter to being merely arty. What is remembered is the artifice and gloss used to make this double record enterprise seem a higher caliber of music. 

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