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Joni Mitchell: Travelogue

Album: Travelogue
Label: Nonesuch

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Two years ago, Joni Mitchell released Both Sides Now, a collection of songs from the past century recast to accommodate her unmistakable voice, accompanied by a full orchestra. It was one of the best entries in a mini-trend of albums featuring singers looking back on 20th-century songwriting (see also Bryan Ferry's As Time Goes By and George Michael's Songs From The Last Century), even though it immodestly closed with one of Mitchell's own songs. Travelogue, her first album for Nonesuch, takes the idea and runs with it over two discs that recontextualize greatest hits and album obscurities alike. Co-produced by Mitchell and ex-husband Larry Klein, and boasting an expansive cast of musicians that includes Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Billy Preston, the album is at moments lush and beautiful, at others overly busy, but never less than daring. Restless as always and singing in a register lowered by time, Mitchell seems driven by a Bob Dylan-like desire to rework her past, even if it at times seems resistant to such efforts. Here, the orchestra buries "Woodstock," while other songs from Mitchell's first great run of albums lose some of their power with the pomp. (Even if "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," her recasting of W.B. Yeats' "The Second Coming," was ever a good idea, it doesn't work here.) But some of Mitchell's more recent efforts benefit from the retooling, including the lively takes on 1994's "Sex Kills" and 1982's "Be Cool," both of which appear on the superior second disc. Misfires and all, Travelogue is too intriguing to dismiss outright, but it seems unlikely to appeal to those not already enamored of Mitchell's songwriting. Travelogue is an album featuring a choir, and also directed at one.