At the time, the 19th studio album from the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was too easily dismissed by some as not measuring up to her iconic albums of the ‘70s. Yet, it is now regarded as her best since that period, rather remarkable in that it was her first set of original material in nearly a decade. Described by Mitchell to be “as serious a work as I’ve ever done,” Shine was inspired by the environmental, social and political turmoil which plagued the era of the Iraq War.
The vinyl will contain the ten original tracks. There are no bonus tracks offered. You’ll find Mitchell in a pensive mood, usually at the piano, rendering minimalist melodies that walk the line between somber and hopeful. A clear highlight is Bob Sheppard’s sax work, especially on soprano, (the opening “One Week Last Summer,” which received the 2008 GRAMMY® Award for Best Instrumental Pop Performance) where he often sounds much like Mitchell’s dear friend, Wayne Shorter, who appeared on many Mitchell albums. Other highlights include the epic “Night of the Iguana,” loosely based on John Huston’s 1964 film; the title track, featuring an appearance by longtime friend James Taylor on guitar; and Mitchell’s revisit to “Big Yellow Taxi,” which feels eerily prophetic 50 years after its debut as climate change becomes an even bigger issue. Also, “If I Had a Heart” may be one of her most haunting melodies.
Mitchell produced this set herself, and with the exception of guest performances from these amazing players including Sheppard, Greg Leisz, Brian Blade, and Larry Klein, all selectively featured,-Mitchell does most of the heavy lifting, playing piano, guitar, and adding all the other instrumentation and arrangements herself. Her guitar playing is rhythmically complex as ever, while her piano playing is more straight forward. And, as per usual, her commentary is biting, sardonic, and poetic.
Here are some examples of those lyrics, first in “This Place” – “You see those lovely hills/They won’t be there for long/They’re gonna tear ’em down/And sell ’em to California…when this place looks like a moonscape/Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.” In “If I Had a Heart” – “Holy war/Genocide/Suicide/Hate and cruelty…How can this be holy?/If I had a heart, I’d cry.” The first is also imbued by Sheppard’s soprano while the latter is haunting via Blade, Klein, and Leisz.
The reworked “Big Yellow Taxi” is a radical departure from the original, full of darker tones, soundscapes and more aggressive acoustic guitar strumming. The most beautiful of all is “Night of the Iguana,” a big, elegant, polyrhythmic piece that features some of the greatest guitar playing Mitchell has ever done. Not only that, it has some of her best poetry -, “The jasmine is so mercilessly sweet/Night of the iguana/Can you hear the castanets?/It’s the widow and her lover boys/Down on the beach.”
If the album feels unsettling, it’s meant to. It’s a reflection of what Mitchell was feeling at the time. It does have some great songs and some magical musical moments. She comes across unapologetic, curious, angry, restless, and even at times hopeful. Few artists can deliver such a span of emotions in just ten songs, so Shine endures as a testament to Mitchell’s songwriting and her iconic status.