As is common knowledge among even casual Joni Mitchell fans, around the mid-1970s her passion for jazz became increasingly integral to her work; that passion escalated through the ’80s and included collaborations with Mingus, Jaco, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. So, at first blush, it seems odd that as jazz-savvy a vocalist as Laurie Antonioli would build a Mitchell salute exclusively around songs that pre-date Joni’s jazz immersion.
In fact, it makes tremendous sense. By restricting herself to Mitchell’s earlier music (stretching all the way back to her debut album, 1968’s Song to a Seagull), she’s provided purer canvases, free of other jazz influences. She seems, by and large, to color within the lines-but that’s because her shadings are so brilliantly subtle.
These 13 selections date from a time when Mitchell was still rather dewy-eyed-young and endlessly curious about mankind’s fancies and foibles. Antonioli brings to these narratives an enriching wisdom. When, for instance, she sings of the social panoply that defines “People’s Parties,” she’s not wallflower observer but hardheaded veteran. When she sings of sweet, lost “Marcie,” you know she’s suffered the same naïve hope in the face of cruel rejection. And, as she shares in the liner notes, she draws on her own battle for sobriety to so affectively plumb “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire.” This is, in short, precisely what any truly distinctive tribute should be: honorific yet idiosyncratic, respectful yet wise.