All double albums need to start with a fanfare of sorts, and this one does too. Beginning with the atmospheric guitars and wordless vocals of the “Overture”, there’s a sharp segue into “Cotton Avenue”, a fairly straightforward, snappy jazz lope. Jaco Pastorius plays bass throughout the album, and his approach dominates “Talk To Me”, which recalls parts of Hejira and includes an ill-advised chicken impression. “Jericho” is reprised from its debut on Miles Of Aisles, given a more cohesive arrangement away from the LA Express.
Because it takes up all of side two, “Paprika Plains” is the centerpiece, a sixteen-minute piano improvisation with lyrics and painstakingly arranged orchestra. The first few minutes are wonderful, since we always love hearing Joni and her piano, but the final three minutes or so are the best, when a rhythm section plus Wayne Shorter’s soprano sax joins in. Ambitious as it is, it still belongs here.
“Otis And Marlena” is more welcoming, more like the accessible Joni strums of recent albums, taking a sudden shift at the end to set up “The Tenth World”, several minutes of Latin percussion featuring vocals from Manolo Badrena of Weather Report. The percussion continues on “Dreamland”, but this time supports a better vocal arrangement from Joni herself.
Things get back to normal somewhat on the final side. The title track sports a guitar rhythm and counterpoints very close to that of “Coyote”, so much so that it almost seems like the same song. “Off Night Backstreet” does evoke a slightly urban atmosphere, and “The Silky Veils Of Ardor” is just Joni and her guitar (more than one, actually) in the same mood as the “Overture” an hour earlier.
Initial reaction to Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter was less than kind, but just as with her previous “failure”, Hissing Of Summer Lawns, there is some excellent music below the ornate wrapping. Some trimming here and there might have made it a better single album, but Joni always played by her own rules.
Joni Mitchell Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977)—3