First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2004, Volume 11, #11
Written by John Metzger
Itís rare that a retrospective collection offers fresh insight into an artistís work, but then again, Joni Mitchell isnít a standard, run-of-the-mill performer. She consistently has strived to achieve something greater with her albums, and with few exceptions, whether she succeeded or failed was more a question of an individual listenerís open-minded perception than it was about the unwavering focus of her unparalleled vision. Now that she has opted to retire from recording new material, fans can expect the repackaging of her back catalog to occur with increasing regularity, but if the latest compilation Dreamland is any indication, the subsequent aggregations of songs will be as thought-provokingly panoramic as the albums from which they were drawn.
By carefully selecting 17 tracks from a wide range of sources ó no more than a pair of tunes were culled from any single outing, meaning that a whopping 11 studio albums were represented ó Mitchell succeeded in painting a broad portrait of her lifework. In placing the songs within a nonlinear format, she found novel perspectives from which to view her compositions. As a result, she also unearthed the hidden relationships that forever have bound her poetic musings together into one lustrously estimable canon.
In short, Dreamland was designed with two overlapping purposes in mind. First, it is meant to provide a means for newcomers to become acquainted with Mitchellís vast repertoire, and second, it is geared towards winning back those fans who deserted the songwriter as her outings became more jazz-inflected and esoteric. In regards to the former objective, the set is largely a successful endeavor, although the inclusion of an additional trio of songs (Woodstock, River, and Chelsea Morning) might have made it a tad more complete ó at least in terms of compiling her best-known compositions under a single heading. Still, that path was tread effectively on the 1996 compilation Hits, which, while living up to its name, didnít provide quite as expansive an overview as Mitchellís new project. By leaving those magnificent songs on the sidelines, she was able to cut a wider swath through her career.
Therefore, itís within the scope of the latter purpose ó that is Mitchellís re-connection with her fans ó that Dreamlandís heart truly lies. Essentially, she is betting ó and rightly so ó that, for many, the complexities that began to permeate her style moved too far, too fast, and perhaps now, at least some of those who were initially puzzled by her variegated inflections might be more open to them. A perfect example is The Jungle Line, a song that within the framework of its 1975 release was undoubtedly a challenging tune to hear. When contemplated in the wake of the worldly excursions by Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel, however, its underlying grooves are no longer quite so foreign. Yet, even here, Mitchell takes tremendous care not to plunge the listener into her more complicated material. Instead, she juxtaposes her more accessible fare with her more experimental inclinations, providing some level of guidance in order to ease the transition. For example, In France They Kiss on Main Street and The Jungle Line jarringly appeared side-by-side as the introductory tracks to The Hissing of Summer Lawns. On Dreamland, she methodically inserts the title track between them, culminating in a segue that is magnificently harmonious.
Indeed, the only tunes that puzzlingly were chosen for inclusion are Nothing Can Be Done, which loses its organic edge in a synthetic haze of overproduction, and Danciní Clown, a horrific duet with Billy Idol that seems utterly out of place and should have been forgotten. Save for these missteps, however, Dreamland is truly a marvel, and although many of Mitchellís albums ó Ladies of the Canyon, Court and Spark, and Blue ó have long warranted their status as classics, this collection makes the case that there were plenty of other moments that deserve an equal amount of attention.
Of Further Interest...
Dreamland is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box