In a year in which three of the leading candidates for the list of 10 best albums have been by women—Janis Joplin's "Pearl," Carole King's "Tapestry" and Carly Simon's debut album - Joni Mitchell's "Blue" (Reprise MS 2038) adds a strong fourth. The album is a marvelously sensitive portrait of love and romance, from the times of semi-desperation and regret to those of comfort and celebration.
Miss Mitchell, whose best known songs include "Both Sides Now" and "The Circle Game " has established herself in her past albums as a writer who has the sensitivity to pick out those important moments of a situation and/or relationship and as one who has the skills and intelligence to express those moments in fresh, lasting ways.
In "Blue," quite possibly, she uses that sensitivity and those skills more impressively than in any of her previous albums. The album's 10 songs were produced with just the right amount of restraint, limiting the instrumentation to just a touch of guitar here, a bit of piano there.
As in many of her previous songs (particularly a song like "Both Sides Now"), Miss Mitchell often combines more than one emotion or theme in a single work. "All I Want," for instance, is a multi-faceted song that speaks about her own desire for fulfillment/adventure ("Alive, alive, I want to get up and jive/I want to wreck my stockings in some juke box dive!'), but ends up revealing most of that fulfillment is based on a certain kind of relationship: "All I really want our love to do/Is bring out the best in me and you... I want to make you feel better/I want to make you feel free."
There's happiness in "My Old Man," tenderness in the poignant "Little Green," mischievousness in "Carey," regret in "This Flight Tonight," longing in "River" and a kind of shattered idealism in "The Last Time I Saw Richard." Several of the songs have one or two guest musicians (including Stephen Stills on one number, James Taylor on three and drummer Russ Kunkel on three), but it remains, more so than most albums, the highly impressive, personal work of a single artist.