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Joni Mitchell: Travelogue

Tough as it is to rationalize, Joni Mitchell’s pack-a-day habit seems only to have enriched that exquisite voice of hers. On this, her first album for Nonesuch and second, after the jazz-infused Both Sides Now, with the London Symphony Orchestra, Mitchell’s nicotine-stained throatiness shapes a vaguely melancholy sagacity that is stunningly beautiful.

As the title suggests, Travelogue is less a reimagined greatest hits package than a circuitous meander through Mitchell’s own musical past-a 30-year journey from dewy flower child to larger-than-life lady of the canyon. Enlightened and embittered by experiences sweet and sour, she gnaws at a lifetime’s poetry with carnivorous passion, savoring each smoky bite. Consider, for instance, her fresh interpretation of “Woodstock,” backed by a rumbling LSO that echoes the escalating threat of an approaching storm. When Mitchell first recorded it in 1970, she was all wonder and wide-eyed excitement. Now, though, she knows it must be infused with a proper sense of history-a beleaguered appreciation of the promise, since undelivered, that Woodstock represented. Similarly, Court & Spark’s “Trouble Child, ” which originally simmered with amphetamine agitation, has become a paean to resigned acceptance, wallowing in Percodan-like stupor.

Elsewhere on the two-disc set, the once imperious “Be Cool” is infused with a bourbon-on-the-rocks kick that owes an obvious debt to the soigne urbanity of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, while “For the Roses,” wrapped in a boldly macabre orchestration, echoes the evolution of Mitchell’s instrument, artfully corroded by age and too many cigarettes. The dreamy yearning of “Just Like This Train” is replaced with soporific ennui, and her dusky “The Last Time I Saw Richard” is likewise blessed with the bittersweet eloquence of deeper experience.

Of the album’s 22 tracks, it is the quiet majesty of “Hejira” that offers the finest proof that Mitchell’s is one of the most glorious voices of the past half-century. Ultimately, though, it is “The Circle Game,” complete with its haunting sax coda, that confirms Mitchell’s remarkable durability, affirming how equally valid her work is for a life-affirming optimist of 26 or a world-weary realist of 59.

Originally Published