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Jessica Molaskey: Portraits of Joni (Ghostlight)

Review of vocalist Jessica Molaskey's album mining the Joni Mitchell songbook

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Cover of Jessica Molaskey album Portraits of Joni
Cover of Jessica Molaskey album Portraits of Joni

If you’ve been fortunate enough to catch Jessica Molaskey and husband John Pizzarelli during their annual autumn residency at Manhattan’s Café Carlyle, you know how deep their joint affection is for Joni Mitchell. Two years ago, Molaskey more fully explored the Mitchell songbook at Lincoln Center as part of its Great American Songbook series.

Now, nine years since her previous solo studio album, Molaskey shapes a career-surveying 14-track collection that spans 18 Mitchell compositions. In short, Portraits of Joni is a labor of love of profound thoughtfulness and craftsmanship. Keyboardist Larry Goldings, drummer-percussionist Duduka Da Fonseca and alternating bassists Leo Traversa and Mike Karn lead Portraits’ sterling spectrum of musicians, welcoming such guests as guitarist-vocalist Pizzarelli, saxophonist Harry Allen, trumpeter Randy Brecker and pianist Helio Alves.

Mitchell’s songs—richly diverse tales of love, loss, redemption, joy and freedom, their wordplay as masterful as that of Cole Porter or Tom Waits—demand a vocalist who’s also a gifted actor, as Molaskey is. And though she remains steadfastly true to the source material, she makes each—from the Annie Ross-worthy bounce of “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines” to the sly come-on of “Raised on Robbery”—uniquely her own. Twice she and Pizzarelli add Brazilian touches, blending “Circle Game” with Jobim’s “Waters of March” and “Chelsea Morning” with Toninho Horta’s “Aquelas Coisas Todas.” And a special shout-out to daughter Madeleine, who does fine work as co-vocalist and guitarist on “Little Green” and adds steel-guitar accompaniment to a superb meld of “Dreamland” and “Carey.”

Preview, buy or download songs from the album Portraits of Joni by Jessica Molaskey on iTunes.

Originally Published