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Travelogue

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Album Review

According to Joni Mitchell, Travelogue is her final recorded work, and if that is so, it's a detailed exploration of moments in a career that is as dazzling as it is literally uncompromising. Over 22 tracks and two CDs (and as stunning package featuring a plethora of photographs of Mitchell's paintings), Travelogue is a textured and poetic reminiscence, not a reappraisal, of her work — most of it from the 1970s through the 1990s. A 70-piece orchestra, as well as jazz legends Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Kenny Wheeler, drummer Brian Blade, bassist Chuck Berghofer, producer Larry Klein, and organist Billy Preston, among others, accompanies her. It's true that Mitchell dabbled in this territory in 2000 on Both Sides Now, but that recording only remotely resembles this one. Cast in this way it is true that this is no easy cruise, but given the nearly 40 years of her sojourn in popular music, Mitchell's work, particularly from the mid-'70s on, has been difficult for many to grasp on first listen and always gives up its considerable rewards, slowly making her records age well over time; they are not disposable as much of the music from her peers is. These completely recast songs cover the entirety of her career, from her debut, Song From a Seagull, to Turbulent Indigo (with certain albums not being represented at all). It's true there aren't high-profile cuts here except for "Woodstock," which is radically reshaped, but it hardly matters. When you hear the ultrahip, be-bopping "God Must Be a Boogie Man," there is an elation without sentimentality; in the scathing and venomous "For the Roses" and "Just Like This Train," the bitterness and aggression in their delivery offers the listener an empathy with Mitchell's anger at the recording industry — and anyone else who's crossed her. But while there is plenty of swirling darkness amid the strings here, there is also the fulfillment of prophecy; just give a listen to this version of "Sex Kills" that bears its weight in full measure of responsibility and vision. Her voice, aged by years of smoking, is huskier and is, if anything, more lovely, mature, deep in its own element of strength. The restatement of W.B. Yeats, "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," is more stunning now than ever before as is "Hejira." In "The Circle Game" and "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," you hear the ambition in Mitchell's musical direct as she has moved ever closer to the tone poem as a song form. Though it may not be as easy on first listen as Court and Spark, Travelogue will continue to unfold over time and offer, like her best work, decades of mystery and pleasure.

Biography

Born: 07 November 1943 in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

No female artist better typified the singer/songwriter movement of the '70s than Joni Mitchell, though her public image as the serious, sensitive woman with a guitar shortchanged her abilities, ambitions, and accomplishments. Mitchell's gift for writing personal, folk-inspired songs about the thorny side of life and love was inarguable (particularly on albums like 1970's Ladies of the Canyon and 1971's Blue), but Mitchell also brought the same smarts and eloquence to glossy pop on her commercial...
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