Three decades ago, an obscure Canadian folk chanteuse by the name of Joni Mitchell recorded "Both Sides Now," an original, wistful tune she hardly imagined at the time would become a hit.
Eighteen albums later, Mitchell has re-recorded "Both Sides Now" with 70 members of the London Symphony Orchestra backing her. And the song finds solid company with jazz and pop standards about love and its discontents drawn from the last half-century on "Both Sides Now" (Reprise). Its release Feb. 8, in a special limited edition with three of Mitchell's original lithographs, was timed for Valentine's Day. The regular CD issue will be available after March 21.
While Mitchell is far from the first female pop vocalist to nostalgically mine old romantic standards backed by a huge orchestra - Linda Ronstadt's collaborations with Nelson Riddle come to mind - hers is the most movingly accomplished recording marking a major stylistic shift from pop vocalist to dramatic torch singer.
Following in Billie Holiday's footsteps
Part of her success needs to be credited to arranger and conductor Vince Mendoza, whose thickly voiced and finely detailed arrangements do for Mitchell what Ray Ellis's similar arrangements did for Billie Holiday's final recordings. The sumptuously rich massing of strings and woodwinds brings a symphonic richness to songs that are mini-dramas largely about lack and loss.
The connection between Mitchell and Holiday is immediately apparent when hearing Mitchell's version of "You've Changed," a song identified with the end of Holiday's career. Both singers understate the agony of lost love while surrounded by strings that ironically counterpoint the lyrical expression of emptiness with a powerful, full sound.