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Review: Drawn To All Things

The Vortex

Chris Parker

'A complete devotion to composer and poet' is what Ian Shaw hopes this album reflects, its Joni Mitchell songs 'chosen mainly for my own personal connection with Joni's work'. Accordingly, what Shaw refers to as the 'locked diary' songs (chief among them the intensely personal, confessional material found on Hejira) are not heavily represented; instead, he applies his art (which he refers to as 'song styling', bracketing himself with the likes of Claire Martin, Mark Murphy, Liane Carroll and Cassandra Wilson) to reinterpreting more widely applicable songs such as 'Chelsea Morning' (given a breezy, almost George Bensonesque feel), 'Talk to Me' (a touchingly rueful plea for understanding of garrulity appropriately ornamented by the conversational trumpet of Guy Barker), or 'River' (given a slightly whimsical feel, rather than the regretful languor of the original). Some of the more accessible confessional songs do remain: 'Jericho', 'A Case of You', 'Both Sides Now' draw heavily on one of Shaw's greatest strengths, his ability to inhabit the emotional world of a song so that the words flow entirely naturally from him; and the third-person pieces ('Edith and the Kingpin', 'Barangrill', 'Love or Money') rely on another strength he shares with Mitchell herself, an ability to deliver both subtly perceptive, complex thoughts and light-hearted social observations without a hint of awkwardness or contrivance, rather as if he's confiding them over drinks in a bar (like Mitchell herself in the songs 'The Last Time I Saw Richard' and 'Refuge of the Roads'). As to whether the songs chosen easily bear Shaw's (and Janette Mason's) interpretations: Joni Mitchell is among the most jazz-literate of singer-songwriters (her fruitful musical relationships with the likes of Wayne Shorter, Tom Scott, Jaco Pastorius, Don Alias, Mike Gibbs and many others over the years attest to this), and material such as 'Harlem in Havana', the beautifully poignant 'Stay in Touch' and 'Moon at the Window' needs travel a very small distance indeed to inhabit jazz territory. The acid test, though, is whether album sheds as much fresh light on the original songs as on Shaw's obvious respect for and feelings about them; it does, and is consequently something of a triumph.