Blue (Joni Mitchell) – Album Review

The Album That Spearheaded The Whole Singer-Songwriter Craze Of The ‘70s, “Blue” Remains Joni Mitchell’s Most Popular Record To This Very Day.

"Blue" (1971) Remains Joni Mitchell’s Most Popular Record To This Very Day. The Album Brought A Whole New Degree Of Openness Into The Making Of Music.

The album which started Joni Mitchell’s commercially-successful days, “Blue” was also the one album heralding a whole new kind of sensibility. Starting with “Blue”, artists were no longer afraid to expose their failings and vulnerabilities. Music took on a completely confessional nature, and an openness that could be potentially healing but also imminently dangerous for its participants was established.

This could hardly be termed coincidental, of course. The idealism of the late ’60s had not just been challenged – it had been turned on its head. Everything was to become starker as the decade advanced. And musicians began expressing both their inner turmoil and the state the whole industry was in through their art. The results would rank from the too-close-for-comfort “The Who By Numbers” to albums like Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks”, true artifacts of despondency that would have been out of place in the previous decade – a decade in which it was assumed that music would do nothing but change the world.

As I said when reviewing the “Hits” package, the sparser the instrumentation then the more effective the songs on “Blue” are. “River”, “Little Green”, “This Flight Tonight”… these songs wouldn’t have worked like they did otherwise. The directness of the sound simply highlights the true profundity of the message – the desire to break from the desolation of the whole music business expressed in “River”, the remorse of having given up a daughter for adoption and never hearing from her again as Joni did when she was young conveyed in “Little Green”, the self-flaying doubts upon leaving a loved one behind (as in “This Flight Tonight”)… Joni also looks resentfully on her marriage on the song “The Last Time I Saw Richard”, whereas “California” echoes the unsettling feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time expressed by “River”.

And even the songs which could be deemed as upbeat are weighed down by a sensation that brings to mind the old saying, “Happiness is nothing but sadness wearing a mask”. “A Case Of You” is dog-eared by destitution, the lyrics describing a love that is too strong and over-arching for its own good. And “All I Want” is a forceful reminder of how proximate loving is to hatred. In both cases, it seems as if the singer were the kind of person who gives just too much away. People like that always assume that his/her significant other will do the same. And when that doesn’t happen (because it just doesn’t happen – taking emotions for granted is as devastating as it is commonplace), a true circle of recriminations and self-loathing is patterned. Continue reading

Hits (Joni Mitchell)

“Hits” Was Issued In 1996. It Anthologizes The Songs That Could Be Deemed As “Classic” Joni Mitchell. A Companion Album Named “Misses” Captured Her Most Experimental Side.

“Hits” Was Issued In 1996. It Anthologized The Songs That Could Be Deemed As “Classic” Joni Mitchell. A Companion Album Named “Misses” Captured Her Most Experimental Side.

The success of the “Turbulent Indigo” album (1994) led Joni Mitchell to a true commercial resurgence. Suddenly, a whole new generation was interested in the music the Canadian performer had created over the three previous decades. Reprise (Joni’s label at the time) moved fast to meet that demand, and Mitchell agreed to the release of a “Best Of” package provided that she could also release a compilation of quasi-hits. That was how the “Hits” and “Misses” albums came to be.

Joni Mitchell reminds me of Bob Dylan in the sense that even in their heydays both performers landed a comparatively small number of bonafide hits. In the case of Joni Mitchell, a Top 7 hit was as hard as she would hit the charts. The song was “Help Me”, and it is obviously included here along with her other three Top 30 hits: “Big Yellow Taxi” , “Free Man In Paris” and the infectious “You Turn Me On (I’m A Radio)”, one of her most joyous compositions.

Of course, quintessential tracks like “The Circle Game” and “Both Sides Now” are featured, and they sound as sharp as ever.

Blue“, Joni’s breakthrough record (and my favorite album of hers) is represented by “California”, “Carey” and “River”. I must say that while both “California” and “Carey” (an alias for James Taylor, her flame at the time) are very good songs, they are not the songs that give “Blue” its edge. The songs like “River” do it; songs which are sparser instrumentally and that provide some of the most intimate moments not only of Joni’s career but also of the whole decade. Continue reading

Joni Mitchell (General Introduction)

Joni Mitchell In The 70s

Joni Mitchell In The '70s

The music industry can dent anybody’s enthusiasm and willingness to make art. But a true artist always keeps at it, not only because it is the only valid form of expression he knows, but because he realizes there comes a point his public needs him to articulate how they feel. It becomes something wholly reciprocal; they need each other, they feed off each other and they motivate each other to do their best.

That is the true moral that arises from Joni Mitchell’s career – a career that has seen wild commercial up and downs, but that has had Joni true to herself and to every single one of us.

Joni Mitchell was born Roberta Joan in Fort MacLeod (Canada). The year was 1943. She showed a precocious interest in music, studying first the piano and then the guitar. Yet, at age nine she was stricken with polio. That made playing the guitar difficult from that point onwards, and that was one of the reasons Joni developed the unique tunings she would be renowned for in her career.

She has defined herself as a “rebellious teenager”, and upon growing up she intended to attend art school in Calgary. She attended classes only for one year there before moving to Toronto, where she met a cabaret jazz singer named Chuck Mitchell that would become her husband in 1966. Together, they headed for the US to seek their fortunes as musicians. The marriage fell apart in 1967, and Joni went to New York City to launch her solo career in earnest.

Before ever releasing her debut album, other artists began recording her songs – Tom Rush sang the very first song she ever wrote, “Urge For Going”, and Judy Collins made the poignant “Both Sides Now” popular long before Joni did.

Joni’s big break came when she was discovered by David Crosby, who convinced his record company (Reprise Records) to sign her up. They did, and Joni’s first album (known as either “Joni Mitchell” or “Song For A Seagull”) was recorded and issued. Public interest began picking up, and a heavy schedule in support of both her debut and the follow-up record (“Clouds”, 1969) made the press take notice as well.

“Ladies Of The Canyon” was issued in 1970. It became her first gold record on the strength of “Big Yellow Taxi” (a top 30 hit) and her own version of “The Circle Game” (the song had been recorded long before by both by Tom Rush and Buffy Sainte-Marie). Continue reading