JONI MITCHELL AND THE L.A. EXPRESS:"Miles of Aisles". You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio; Big Yellow Taxi; Rainy Night House; Woodstock; Cactus Tree; Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire; Woman Of Heart And Mind; A Case Of You; Blue; Circle Game; People's Parties; All I Want; Real Good For Free; Both Sides Now; Carey; The Last Time I Saw Richard; Jericho; Love Or Money; (Asylum Import double album AB202).
Joni Mitchell (voice, guitar, piano,dulcimer), Tom Scott (woodwinds and reeds), Max Bennett (bass), John Geurin (drums and percussion), Robben Ford (lead guitar), Larry Nash (electric piano).
Recorded at the Universal Ampitheatre August 14 through 17, 1974 except "Cactus Tree" recorded at L.A. Music Centre 4/3/74 and "Real Good For Free" Berkeley Community Centre, 2/3/74.
There are precious few musical amalgamations on earth that I'd rather go see than Tom Scott's L.A. Express fronted by Joni Mitchell, but stress that word - amalgamations - because though her lyrical insight and accuracy in pinpointing human emotional experience has remained unchallenged for fully five years now, Joni Mitchell's only been cutting it musically since "For The Roses," or alternatively since she and Tom Scott first crossed paths.
Which is why in view of the radical change that the L.A. Express have brought to bear on almost all the pre- "Roses" material, it's rather disappointing that they're not featured more predominately on sides two and three here - these being acoustic for the most part. It seems strangely futile to hedge one's bets with a band as phenomenally good as this at one's disposal.
The old insoluable about live albums must of course be raised here; there's only seven minutes of new material on "Miles Of Aisles," the other sixteen tracks the Mitchell connoisseur already possesses, so, as far as the acoustic tracks are concerned, you're paying for mere nuances, subtle differences of intonation and the od aside or quip from the audience.
Example, a chuckle towards the end of "Blue," which is taken at a fractionally faster tempo. Or an audience participation/singalong on "Circle Game" prefaced by an invitation to sing out of tune, courtesy of Ms. Mitchell.
Or the observation "I slept last night in the Fairmont hotel (chuckle)" on "For Free," Joni's misdirected tribute to our own Lol Coxhill, during the course of which she indicates that its over now. "Sixteen" gentlemen escorting her to halls rather than the "two" of old. Such is fame.
The most impressive of the "wooden" numbers is in fact (to borrow David Crosby's terminology - it seems somehow apt to drag him in here) is "For The Roses's" "Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire" with quite breathtaking echoing of Joni's voice by Scott's clarinet. But oh! Those electric group numbers - every last one a classic and brilliant reinterpretation of the original right from the "You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio," where Robben Ford's guitar , with the ludicrously expert use of volume control sings duets with Joni in between letting off honey-smooth licks in his own spaces. Sounding like a superlative steel player, in fact, on standard solid body guitar. And then, moving sequentially, "Big Yellow Taxi," which logically ought to be a buried novelty hit by now, but no - the L.A. Express inject its trite little melody with a whole new kind of authority, as Tom Scott gobbles a honky jump band sax solo and Guerin scrambles around those middle range tom toms.
Similarly, reared as we are on muddy, bass-heavy live albums, you really have to gasp at the clarity of the recording here, so vivid that you can not only discern every single cymbal stroke but locate which part of the cymbal is being struck. "Rainy Night House," especially is a case in point, almost certainly the most exquisite piece of live recording I've heard to date, and, not to undermine the re-arrangement, it here knocks the attractive "Ladies Of The Canyon" first take sideways, emphasising how much Joni is not a jazz singer; hear the revamped vocal improvisation following the phrase "I sing soprano in the upstairs choir" where once was an overdubbed angelic chorus. "Woodstock" finally takes on the viewpoint of a festival performer rather than an observer, Joni's version now a closer neighbour of the CSN and Y interpretation - all to the good, and again Guerin's drumming is outasight, ditto for "Carey" which now has all kinds of polyrhythmic interaction bubbling below the surface. Somebody (Scott presumably) hammers a woodblock while high-hats chomp and snares and bass drums simulate the sound of clomping donkey hooves in Grecian tourist resorts.
Finally, the new numbers, love songs as ever, "Jericho" and "Love Or Money," the former optimistic and doubtless autobiographical, the latter, in Joni's own words "a portrait of a disappointment," and on first hearing at least the more memorable of the two. I guess maybe "Love Or Money" is more fodder for the Joni Mitchell spot-the-suitor parlour game. It's about a poet, or a lyricist maybe a singer songwriter even. My money's on David Blue, but what the hell, musically its pretty much perfect.
Forget my acoustical reservations, the songs Joni Mitchell throws away run rings around the output of most anybody else. Damn the expense, buy it. - S.L.
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