Joni Mitchell’s career gets a jolt of caffeine


Renaissance woman Joni Mitchell has signed with Starbucks label Hear Music to release her first album of new work since 1998. Shine, slated for September 25, follows on the successful heels of Hear’s first creative release (Paul McCartney‘s Memory Almost Full), and the news has created more buzz than a $9 super extra giant fancy-pants espresso.

Mitchell can claim a myriad of titles: folk icon, guitar genius (or heroine), songwriter extraordinaire, painter, feminist, environmentalist, proud Canadian, inspiration to generations of singer-songwriters, source of many an excellent cover song and all-around beautiful person.

Among the titles Mitchell will not or cannot claim: the “female Bob Dylan” (she smartly retorts, “no one would say that Dylan is the ‘male Joni Mitchell'”), nonsmoker or indie queen. Most of her albums are on major labels, despite an artistry-versus-sales battle with the music industry as long-standing as her career. The partnership turned infamously (more) sour in 2002, when Mitchell publicly and repeatedly referred to the business as a “cesspool” and talked about quitting altogether. (If she hadn’t also talked about her generally low opinion of contemporary singers, I’d suggest that she and Kelly Clarkson share war stories.)

Despite my happiness that Mitchell has not quit after all, I’m disappointed that Starbucks, peddler of overpriced swill and homogeneous “café culture,” is the one bringing her back to us. Think of “Big Yellow Taxi” (which, ironically, will be re-released on Shine, along with nine original songs and a Rudyard Kipling adaptation):



So, they paved paradise and put up a … Starbucks? Granted, it isn’t Wal-Mart, and I’m sure plenty of space has been paved for CD stores, but I can’t help balking at the incongruity of this match. Heck, Mitchell herself got started playing in coffeehouses that likely had more flavor than any Starbucks ever will.

Hear Music has already released an Artist’s Choice collection of Mitchell’s favorites by other musicians, as well as a compilation of her own tunes handpicked by “friends and fellow musicians.” But to me, compilations are different than a return to brilliance, which is how Starbucks Entertainment president Ken Lombard describes the CD: “This is the true Joni — it is almost the return of her as a storyteller.”

Well, when you put it that way, I’m almost willing to ignore the ubiquitous green mermaid logo and hope for the best. What say you, readers? Worth supporting Starbucks to obtain the work of a contemporary goddess? No different than any other label, since they’re all corrupt anyway? Or are you both a Starbucks and Mitchell fan, thrilled at this conjunction of two most excellent things?

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