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Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell’s first album for Starbucks’ Hear Music label isn’t being hyped as a concept album, but that’s what it is. Almost every song wags a finger at the impending environmental apocalypse, rampant political evils, and those who would allow such badness to thrive. Hopeful glimmers —“Hana,” a stoic call for volunteerism and keeping the faith — cut through the gloom, but Mitchell’s not making any long-term plans. “We have poisoned everything and oblivious to it all/The cellphone zombies babble through the shopping malls,” she sings in “Bad Dreams.” The title song rails against both “Frankenstein technologies” and “assholes passing on the right,” among other modern-day bummers; even the remake of “Big Yellow Taxi” takes on a discomforting 11th-hour hue absent from the original. Mitchell produced the album and played most of the instruments (including the cheesy disco-era drum machine). The arrangements are stark and lean, relying on ominous, droning washes of ambient sound, subtle jazzy guitar and keyboard, well-placed sax bursts, and honeyed pedal steel to provide coloring. Subdued but not entirely resigned, Mitchell sings in a strong, assured voice that’s still warm and welcoming, though lowered by decades of ecologically unhip tobacco smoke. Closing with “If,” with lyrics adapted from Rudyard Kipling, she assures, “I know you’ll be all right.” Then again, maybe not.

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Joni Mitchell

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