Joni Mitchell Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter 1977
This is another of those Joni albums that tends to divide opinion, but I strongly believe this double LP is in the ascendancy, in line with Joni’s catalogue in general.
I guess it’s fair to say this represented a striking contrast with the stunning run of albums that had preceded it. It enters distinctly more left field territory and, depending on your attitude to Joni’s more experimental offerings, it’s something you either take to or not. Not easy to remain on the fence in that context.
From my own perspective, it’s right in my wheelhouse, having weaned myself on a pretty constant diet of Eno, Zappa and Beefheart. I therefore welcomed this 1977 double album with open arms and was full of admiration for Joni’s refusal to stick to a winning formula and move even further out of her perceived comfort zone.
Crucially, Don Juan is a stunning and remarkable continuation of her extremely special musical relationship with bass wizard Jaco Pastorius.
Side One’s amazingly well sequenced triumvirate of Overture-Cotton Avenue, Talk To Me and Jericho is quite possibly the most played side of vinyl in my collection. Jaco’s playing is completely original and those extended low notes that appear a few times give the music even greater depth, in more ways than one.
Then we come to Side Two and Paprika Plains, Joni’s longest ever opus. It truly is a masterpiece and flows wonderfully throughout its 16 minute plus running time. Remember that this was a grandiose production in the year of punk, as if to further emphasize Joni’s willingness to swim against the tide of popular contemporary taste. The orchestration is fabulous and those intimate moments of just her voice and the grand piano are so special. Maybe this is one of the Joni tracks that will have the greatest longevity. Quite simply, it’s brilliant.
I adore the mood of Side Three opener Otis and Marlena. Again very unlike anything she’d ever done before. The percussion piece The Tenth World is an even more surprising departure. So well put together and a wonderful workout for any hifi system. It ends abruptly and there’s Joni’s voice again, performing the infectious Dreamland, still a great personal favorite.
Side Four’s opening title track is one of the most conventional sounding songs here, but still with the unique twist this remarkable LP introduced to us all. Off Night Backstreet creates a fabulous sultry mood and engrosses you to the point that it seems a lot longer than the 3:20 it actually does occupy. Great bass from Jaco again here. Silky Veils of Ardor would probably have more traction as a Joni classic were it on a more conventional LP in her catalog.
I suspect that many people for whom DJRD is a jarring experience possibly didn’t make the journey through the record too many times and, thus, may have somewhat overlooked its splendor.
Despite the awkward critical and diverse fan response (it was her last record to go gold in the US), I feel that Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter has actually bestrode the decades with considerable distinction, not least because it was very ahead of its time and rewards multiple listens. For me it’s utterly indispensable.
Seen here as an essentially mint original US pressing on Asylum. Image censored to bring it in line with group rules (there’s a full frontal nude on Joni’s dress).
Chris Wright | Now Spinning Magazine