A Tribute to Joni Mitchell features a strikingly eclectic roster of artists who share Mitchell's fierce intelligence, musical sophistication, and boundary-pushing experimentalism. The creative interpretations of some of her best-known songs illustrate Mitchell's breadth as a composer and lyricist while putting something of a unique flavor on the chosen songs.
Tribute records live or die by the performers' ability to interpret the subject's work in new and inventive frameworks, or by how well they evoke the spirit of the original recordings. Joni Mitchell's poetic folk and jazz offers infinite possibilities for the former, which makes the notion of this collection by indie rockers, pop divas, and country and folk practitioners most appealing. Not surprisingly, for most of the men it turns out to be more of an intellectual exercise than an emotional foray (Elvis Costello's harder take on "Edith and the Kingpin," Sufjan Stevens's jumbled sonic landscape on "Free Man in Paris"). But there are some breathtaking performances from the women, starting with Björk's wide-eyed cover of "The Bojo Dance" and moving on to Cassandra Wilson's mahogany-voiced "For the Roses," Emmylou Harris's devastating reading of "The Magdalene Laundries," and Sarah McLachlan's goosebump-raising "Blue," where her vocals approximate Mitchell's so thoroughly some folks might be fooled. Hands down, the most peculiar track is Prince's doo-woppy "A Case of You," which nearly defies description. The project got started in the late '90s and was finished only recently, which probably accounts for a stilted unevenness and seeming lack of continuity. Think of this as an interesting companion to Mitchell's vast and vital body of work. But the revered Lady of the Canyon doubtless deserves a far more comprehensive and well-executed homage. --Alanna Nash