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Joni’s love of jazz and jazz’s love of Joni are no secret: Consider occasional collaborator Herbie Hancock’s recent tribute record. But Shine, her first record in five years and debut for Starbucks’ Hear Music label, has a startling amount of saxophone. Coupled with other woodwinds, these horns sound elegant, almost classical. But too often the lead tenor veers dangerously deep into Grover Washington territory—such meandering (God forgive me if it’s Wayne Shorter) damns otherwise lovely arrangements to elevator-music oblivion.
Sometimes the specificity of Joni’s lyrics wrangles back your attention. At their best, her words express an infectious appreciation for nature while seeming to describe a pseudo-metalhead hipster’s T-shirt: “Sparkle on the ocean/Eagle at the top of a tree.” At their worst, alas, these jarringly earnest songs become plainly preachy: “Money, money, money . . . Money makes the trees come down . . . Big money kicks the wide wide world around.” Surely this message would have been more effective had Starbucks not sponsored it. On “Big Yellow Taxi (2007),” Joni sings her old lament (“Took all the trees and put ’em in a tree museum”) over an affecting new arrangement and reminds us of her past prescience, but also—maybe unwittingly, maybe not—gives us a strong metaphor to describe the strangeness of seeing music by once vital and innovative artists like herself now on display at an antiseptic, overpriced coffee-shop chain.