Tribute records come and go, all but a few failing their vaunted goal. Sound-alike’s abound: rote country versions, routine roots variations and strident schizo-genre adaptations. Gratefully, Antonioli’s nod to Joni Mitchell, Songs of Shadow, Songs of Light is brazenly infused with the fearless creativity that we, and she, salute Ms. Mitchell for time and time again.
Though none of these 13 songs postdate 1975, Antonioli, an internationally acclaimed Bay Area vocalist and educator, still digs deep into Mitchell’s complexities, revealing deeper indigo moods and textures. Sheldon Brown’s overdubbed clarinets portray the myriad passion plays of “Barangrill.” Whereas Joni’s “Woman of Heart and Mind” was the voice of a younger woman struggling/realizing the pitfalls of womanhood, Antonioli’s darker, maturer voice not only cuts harder into those themes, it carries years of expectations, both fulfilled and missed, into the equation.
With her virtuoso quintet (Matt Clark on keys, Dave MacNab on guitar, John Shifflett on bass, Jason Lewis on drums, and Sheldon Brown on brass and woodwinds), Antonioli’s imaginings take a singular and broadly impressionistic sweep. “Eastern Rain” never recorded by Mitchell (you may recall Fairport Convention’s circa ’69) veers from folk to Middle-Eastern vibe. “This Flight Tonight” becomes a scat/groove marvel as Antonioli swoops from high to low registers and Clark’s piano takes center stage, powered by the in-pocket drive of Shifflet & Lewis. Some downtown funk sends “California” out swinging, making Songs of Shadow, Songs of Light a true discovery.
– Mike Jurkovic