|1. Otis and Marlena|
|3. You Dream Flat Ties|
|6. Slouching Towards Bethlehem|
|7. Judgement of the Moon and Stars|
|8. The Sire of Sorrow|
|9. For the Roses|
|10. Trouble Child|
See all 11 tracks on this disc
|1. Be Cool|
|2. Just Like This Train|
|3. Sex Kills|
|4. Refuge of the Roads|
|6. Chinese Cafe / Unchained Melody|
|7. Cherokee Louise|
|8. The Dawntreader|
|9. The Last Time I Saw Richard|
See all 11 tracks on this disc
I've been listening to TRAVELOGUE for over three months now, and I'm mystified by the slings and arrows directed at this superb two-disc set. As for its perceived weaknesses - well, the lack of new material certainly isn't a problem; in fact, the songs on TRAVELOGUE have been reconsidered and reinvented in a way that makes each of them sound freshly minted. And those who've criticized her use of an orchestra (and made it sound as though the album's been submerged in a kind of symphonic marshmallow cream) simply haven't listened carefully to each cut. Ms. Mitchell, Larry Klein (her co-producer), and Vince Mendoza (her arranger and conductor) have too much taste and sound musical judgment to go for cheap musical tricks; the strings and wind instruments on TRAVELOGUE have been used in the same way a painter uses a brush stroke - sometimes sparingly and sometimes emphatically, adding a touch of color here, or a bit of shadow there. As for Ms. Mitchell's singing, it's true the years (and more than a few cigarettes) have left their mark, but the voice remains a warm and expressive instrument, full of texture, character, and humor.
Selecting standout cuts here is difficult, because both discs - from beginning to end - are wonderful to listen to. I could list "Amelia," "Love," "Ludwig's Tune," "The Sire Of Sorrow," "Be Cool," "Refuge Of The Roads," "Hejira," and "Cherokee Louise" as personal favorites, but I have a feeling in a week's time I'd probably single out different songs, because TRAVELOGUE reveals new riches with each listening.
On a purely selfish level I hope TRAVELOGUE isn't Joni Mitchell's last recording, because she represents one of the few oases in the wasteland of contemporary music. But ultimately she'll decide which road to follow, and this is why she's cherished by her genuine admirers - because she weighs the options, and goes her own way.
I suppose it is something of a "Best of..." Joni, although the songs are re-recorded to orchestral arrangements. In that sense, it is also something of a 'Let It Be -- Naked' in reverse, with Joni adding layers rather than taking them away. Some work better than others, though I'm not familiar with all the originals, but overall it is a (generally) soothing and graceful work.
It is rather striking to me that so many people here would pan this work with one or two stars. (I suppose THEY can do better?). The quality of the compositions alone warrant at least 3 stars. I'm not a freak for mass collections of strings and horns, and certainly Joni's music works better (for me, anyway) on a lone acoustic guitar or piano, but 'Travelogue' offers new perspectives on some old dialogs, which is refreshing (certainly better than a live 'rehash'). It's much like traveling to a beloved destination, but choosing a different route just for the heck of it, even if it is out of the way. You still get to where you wanted to go, but you feel you've discovered something new in the process of getting there. I suppose in the final analysis the strings and brass don't give or take away a lot from these compositions, but that is more of a credit to what they are than a criticism of whatever Joni was trying to make of them.
I do like how 'Woodstock' fared in the overhaul. Consider that this take actually brings a contemporary feel to a song dated not only by years, but also by decades of cultural change. Others, like 'Circle Game' and 'Refuge of the Roads' will forever remain treasures, no matter how Mitchell reinterprets them. I also enjoyed getting acquainted with compositions I was unfamiliar with, such as 'Sex Kills', a daunting tune.
I must confess that at times I have no idea what Mitchell is singing about, but it always seems interesting, and there are many moments when her lyrics, or 'way' of looking at or expressing something make me smile at her insight or style. Is she a musical genius? I don't know, and I don't care. This is. And this is good. I would still buy the originals over this, but this is nice, too. It's 4 stars, folks... put away your prejudices, both good and bad.
That is what I thought the first time I heard this album, and it is what I think as I listen to it right now. Read more