Joni Mitchell ended her tenure at Geffen Records with the lovely and understated Night Ride Home — an album that in many ways works in stark contrast to its predecessor, 1988’s Caulk Mark In A Rainstorm. The album leans heavily on Mitchell’s jazz guitar phrasings, which intertwine with co-producer Larry Klein’s five-string bass. On this outing, Mitchell would forgo the use of big-name rock players and singers — keeping the focus on the songs and her voice.
The results, which focus instead on Mitchell’s writing and the sympathetic co-production by Klein, combined to make for one of the strongest albums in Mitchell’s career.
“Night Ride Home” paints a graphic outline of the songs to follow: The track, reflecting Mitchell’s wanderlust for travel, is also an understated love song to her travel partner, lover and friend Klein. Musically, Mitchell almost paints in abstract with her guitar multi-tracked to create the main theme of the song, while Klein’s bass and Bill Dillon’s pedal steel guitar provide colors. The song is minimalist, yet perfect in its construction. “Cherokee Louise” continues the musical theme established in “Night Ride Home,” but adds Mitchell confidant Wayne Shorter on soprano sax. Mitchell offers a wonderful lead vocal which is as evocative as the lyrics. Lyrically, the song is vivid and disturbing, in dark contrast with how truly wonderful the song is.
“The Windfall (Everything for Nothing),” meanwhile, picks up the pace with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and bassist Klein teaming up for a subtle rock feel. Mitchell provides the real sparks, with guitar and lyrics as sharp as a knife. Clearly, Mitchell is not one to be trifled with. “Come In from the Cold” shifts the focus back to relationships. Sensual, sensitive and elegant, Mitchell touches on the tangibles and intangibles in relationship and self-awareness. Mitchell made a video for “Come in from the Cold,” and the song was edited for radio play — but nevertheless failed to chart.
“Nothing Can Be Done” adds a suitable contrast to “Come in from the Cold,” with Mitchell and cowriter Klein hitting a solid rock pace. The song provides tasty, non-preachy social commentary and is added by a guest vocal from David Baerwald. (Baerwald, of David & David fame, also had Mitchell and a singer and Klein as a producer on his own Bedtime Stories.) Mitchell ends the original release of Night Ride Home with a track originally recorded for her Wild Things Run Fast album in 1982: “Two Grey Rooms” started as a song Mitchell gave to Larry Klein, guitarist Michael Landau and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta just to jam on during the Wild Things Run Fast sessions. The lyric-less song was rediscovered by Mitchell while she was recording Night Ride Home. This time, she quickly sketched out a song narrative — and recorded it over the original backing track.
They make for a perfect prelude to Mitchell’s first post-Geffen Records outing, the Grammy-winning Turbulent Indigo from 1994. Unfortunately, Night Ride Home — along with the other three Geffen-era albums by Mitchell — went out of print in the 1990s. When Mitchell discovered this, she bought the original tapes, remastered the albums and added a bonus track on each. Night Ride Home, rereleased in the Complete Geffen Series in 2003 contains a stellar cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” — but only on the CD version of the release.