Both Sides Now
2000: Reprise 9 47620-2
Of course its a startling twist in the ever-evolving magic that is Joni Mitchell, but even if you havent been an ardent admirer of this artist I bet youd find it to be an oddly charming record maybe along the lines of how Linda Ronstadt seems on her Whats New?, except this is much moodier (not brooding, because Jonis delivery and the orchestration both run an amazing gamut of expression).
Part of what makes it that way is the very personalized orchestration: it may be Big Band stuff on the surface, but the chord complications and depth of their shifts brings it around into focus as a face of Joni Mitchell, albeit one I dont think Id ever seen before. Perhaps thats part of her loaded choice of title for the album.
Speaking of which, I havent heard her original cut of the title track in decades, now that I think about it. I think I heard so many other recordings of it back then that I forgot whose it originally was and how it originally sounded and because of that, with her Woodstock in mind (and CSN&Ys masterful redefinition of it on So Far), Im actually a little scared to get ahold of a copy and play it. The same cannot be said for A Case of You, her other self-cover on this CD, which I have known, loved, and sung for the past 17 years or so.
Both covers are lovely, if sadder and more resigned. She sounds, well, I was going to say that she sounds like shes pulled her limbs up and in and around, curled into a protective huddle, with only the brooding glower and the ubiquitous cigarette protruding, but as I started to write that I reflected on the other big surprise this album held for me: it gives me a completely new Joni Mitchell persona to consider, specifically Joni singing in front of a big band like some classic torch singer. But even though the material she presents here includes both classics of that milieu and two of her own classics completely recast into that style, the recording remains Joni at the core its just a different camera angle, a surprising new lighting effect on whats been there (or developing) all along .
Aside from her own two pieces, the tracks I love most on this densely/delicately complicated jewel are I Wish I Were In Love Again and Im Happy When Im With You. As is the case with all truly good torch song albums, Both Sides Now is not just a bunch of songs sung by yet another singer but rather a varied mix of standards and more obscure delights that have fallen by the wayside over time and have been brought to us lovingly by these singers as a lost treasure they hold dear. And that is what introduces me (us) to songs like I Wish I Were In Love Again and its deliciously arch lyrics, as well as stuff such as appears on the Bobby Short/Mabel Mercer concert at Town Hall (which I havent added to my collection yet, silly me, even though its been out on CD for a year or two now). To share the pleasure of such lyrics is one of the loveliest aspects of listening to these records, and Joni doesnt disappoint with her selections.
Comments © 2005 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.