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Don Juan's Reckless Daughter is a 1977 double-album by the Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. This is a rather strange album that simultaneously emerges as a mish-mash of all that has gone (only in less inspired fashion) in addition to some experimentation and use of "world music" sounds. You are tipped off to the fact that this is going to be rather eccentric by the strange and not terribly inspiring cover art which features Joni Mitchell posing as a man or something. While some of the album is perfectly fine it did stretch my patience more than once and there isn't too much I would return to with any haste. There is a song here called Paprika Plains that goes on for sixteen minutes with a full orchestra as Joni Mitchell waffles on about Native American Indians and nuclear explosions. While one can admire her desire to be more expansive and unpredictable there is no good reason for any song here to last for six minutes let alone sixteen and you miss the perfectly composed simplicity and brevity of the early songs by this singer. I also generally don't have a huge amount of tolerance for the calypso sounds and African tribal aura that filters into this record at times. I was entranced by the young Joni Mitchell with her guitar in Silent Running soundtrack mode and so some of these later albums are certainly a struggle (although worth sifting through I suppose lest you should miss a Hejira for instance). This does feel like it has arrived after the end of an era though and is gamely snatching at past glories that are now just out of reach. Ultimately this is Joni Mitchell moving further away from her golden period and when this was followed by the disappointing (and equally strange in places) Mingus it seemed to confirm once and for all that her best days were well and truly behind her. Her voice was starting to change and the hippy poppy folk songs that made her name were now increasingly a thing of the past.
Overture-Cotton Avenue is a middling start to the album and has a trying very hard stream of consciousness lyric by Joni Mitchell - although the imagery of old isn't quite so poetic and sharp here for some reason. Her voice is noticeably lower than days gone by but still just about has that folky twang on Don Juan's Reckless Daughter which makes her distinctive. It's a pleasant song but so ambling you almost forget it as soon as it's finished and at over six minutes outstays its welcome rather a lot. You could get away with longer songs on a classic album like Clouds or Hejira but as most of the songs here are nothing to write home about the longer ones feel somewhat pretentious and self-indulgent and are often a struggle to get through. The next song, Talk to Me, is better feels more immediate than a lot of Joni Mitchell's later work in the last part of the seventies and beyond. I suppose if you were choosing a single from Don Juan's Reckless Daughter this would an obvious choice to select. It has nice acoustic guitars and Joni Mitchell happily sounds a lot more like the Joni Mitchell from the early albums. The song is all about being embarrassed and yearning for someone to talk to you (or something) and it's ok and nice enough but maybe just seems to lack a certain something. It feels too obvious somehow as if Joni Mitchell is doing a cover version of one of her own songs. The natural quality that made one feel as if these songs had been summoned on a whim has been lost and the singer can't quite seem to get this element back. I think a problem with Don Juan's Reckless Daughter is that it never quite seems to decide what it wants to be or establishes a consistent theme or style. This free form form approach may have been deliberate but the end result is never satisfactory in the way that one wants it to be.
Jericho is another low-key warbler that ambles along in lackadaisical fashion. It's pretty but perhaps lacks the poetry of the early songs that were produced in this vein. You feel like the component parts for a great song are in place but the ingredients were never quite mixed in the right way. The aforementioned Paprika Plains is the first real sign of experimentation on the album. There is a thunderous (for Joni Mitchell) orchestra at the start and a bangy piano key. The vocal itself strives to recapture former glories and builds nicely but it never quite manages to bottle the essence of something like Amelia (which it definitely feels like it is trying to sound like). One of the better songs here but the shadow of Joni Mitchell's back catalogue does loom large over the song. Otis And Marlena is a decent acoustic guitar backed song and Joni Mitchell displays a decent falsetto (something she would not be able to do in later years and was even struggling a little bit with at this point, age and years of smoking starting to catch with her at last) and spins a typically obtuse lyric about neon mercury and red streaked skies over the city. It's not bad at all though and one of the more palatable parts of the album. The Tenth World has Latin rhythms and what sounds like African singers in the background. A foray into world music and this sort of stuff is not my cup of tea at all and not something I would willingly listen to.
Dreamland serves up more More African themed world music. I suppose this is not a million miles away from what Paul Simon did although he seemed to have catchier songs and also lest we forget had a video with Chevy Chase in it. I found this annoying to be honest. Joni Mitchell's vocal seems to be deliberately trying to be kooky and off-kilter and while admires her willingness to experiment it isn't really something I would choose to listen to. Don Juan's Reckless Daughter is a mid-tempo title song that eschews the world music angle and again feels like some of the early songs with the exception of a juddery bass sound. The song and vocal is fine but it does slightly feel like Joni Mitchell treading water. Off Night Backstreet feels like an attempt at more of a flight of fancy soaring song in the vein of the work on Hejira but the end result is only partially successful. The vocal is enjoyable but the music borders on the cheesy at times with little strange vaguely electronic beeps and more electric sounding guitars. The Silky Veils Of Ardor is the final song and another acoustic slow one. Not bad at all and it at least ends the album on a decent note. On the whole this album left me strangely indifferent even during its more promising interludes and there were a batch of songs that I found fairly tedious to be honest. Parts of it were ok but anyone who became a fan through the early albums should lower their expectations if they give this a whirl. Don Juan's Reckless Daughter is the first of Joni Mitchell's seventies albums that failed to enrapture me in any way and so I think is probably one for completists only.