Joni Mitchell's Shadows And Light is something of a curio. Dating from the tail-end of La Mitchell's most visionary period, this DVD is essentially a concert movie.
However, directed by Joni herself, the film is spliced with clips of rock'n'roll''s hesitant first steps, from a time when it was possible to 'feel so wild you could break someone's heart just doin' the latest craze'.
In those sepia-tinged vignettes, iconic clips of James Dean abound, together with the choirboy figure of Little Anthony and the duck-walking Chuck Berry.
With location-filmed footage accompanying later tracks such as Coyote and Hejira, it makes for a haphazard narrative, but one that probably seemed like a good idea in the early days of video. Also, with few extra features, the package as a whole feels like an ill-considered opportunity to just bung Joni product on the market with the likely absence of any new audio material for years yet.
So, given these negatives, are you to take it that Shadows And Light is to be avoided? Well frankly, no. For a start, Shadows And Light gives top billing to a raft of material that was given only cursory examination on the recent, and otherwise excellent, BBC4 documentary.
Also, it is possibly the only footage of the late, and very great, Jaco Pastorius, the only human being ever to turn the sound of fretless bass into walking, talking poetry. Put him together with celebrated jazzbo guitarist Pat Metheny, blue-chip players like Michael Brecker and Lyle Mays, and its puzzling why this touring collective aren't lauded as one of the greatest bands the seventies. But then, Rock is a boys boys boys world, and this band after all is led by a woman.
Joni herself has been quoted as saying that for the Seventies, she founded herself led by the twin career trajectories of Bob Dylan and fellow Canadian Neil Young Closer examination of records like Court And Spark, The Hissing Of Summer Lawns and Hejira (aspects of which are all featured heavily on this DVD), reveal a lyrical dexterity and musical daring that, at the very least, rival the contemporaneous output of those seemingly unimpeachable icons.
Almost every performance here expands the palette of those studio recordings, and in some cases, supercedes the originals. Amelia, a curiously remote performance in the studio, is given extra warmth by Metheny's trills and added poignancy by the clips of Amelia Earhart, "swallowed by the sky".
In the minds of many, Joni Mitchell will forever be the archetypal hippy chick lost on the road to Woodstock. Once the Seventies really kicked in, Joni's material far surpassed the navel-gazing self-a-rama of the likes of James Taylor and C S & N.
Possessed of a sceneographic sensibility to immediately transport the listener to unfamiliar times and places, Mitchell mapped out the conflicts of the counter-culture as it wrestled with that dread thing called maturity, where being "a free man in Paris" might not be as ultimately attractive as "stroking the star-making machinery behind the popular song".
If you've never investigated the richly textured work of prime-time Joni Mitchell, then Shadows And Light just might be the ideal place to begin.