If any album is in need of the title BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, this one, even more than the Bob Dylan masterpiece, needs it. But Joni Mitchell, being a visual as well as lyrical artist of the first rank, prefers a more oblique title, BLUE. While nothing on the album is a direct blues tune, and in spite of the BLUE NOTE lookalike cover, there are just smatterings of the jazz-influenced style that would raise her later works to the height of popularity. Instead of those genres, BLUE became the catechism of the singer-songwriter confessional. And in spite of the fame, and the blame for mediocre wannabes as recent as Jewel, BLUE deserves every accolade hoisted upon it. Had this been Mitchell's only album (and hallelujah it isn't), induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would have been assured. More importantly, through BLUE, the emotions and honesty of Mitchell the singer, the writer and the musician are indelibly written on the soul of anyone who listens with an open heart.
In some ways BLUE is the perfect argument for the shorter art form of the LP. In ten songs and 36:39, Mitchell pours her soul out with chilling perfection. As with the Mona Lisa, anything more, especially a larger canvas, would diminish the effect. So completely and so honestly does Mitchell share herself that we are less voyeurs and more fellow voyagers in her stories. And the stories are filled with everything that love can summon: from the promise of emotional caring and intimacy on the first track, A Case Of You ("I want to make you feel better, I want to make you feel free"), to the weary closing of the heart on the last track, The Last Time I Saw Richard ("I'm gonna blow this damn candle out, I don't want nobody comin' over to my table. I got nothing to talk to anybody about"), BLUE takes us on a trip through the artist's life. And time has recently shown us just how true that is. In 1971, no one knew that she had given a child up for adoption, but knowing this now ratchets up the intensity of A Little Green, where the protagonist does just that. The allusions to California, Rome, Paris and the icy winters of Canada lay out the geography of the voyage. And though Mitchell doesn't use them, we know the lovers sought, captured and then lost herein have real names. The lessons are not imaginary, not literary but literal. If you don't have this album, or if you do but don't get it, you desperately need to.
As for the sound, let me put it this way: I used to think that I wanted Steve Hoffman's job, but after hearing BLUE, I know that this isn't possible. There is no way I could ever do what he has done. At CES '99, I talked with Hoffman about the BLUE tapes. He mentioned that the sound of the master was remarkably good for early '70s solid state, but that it was still an early '70s solid-state recording. The vestiges of that sound hang around the edges of the album, but just barely. Hoffman has expanded the stage, added body and warmth to the players, and brought it all together with the ease and balance of a cordon bleu chef.
I have two other CD pressings of BLUE, and two vinyl ones as well. The original CD pressing, to use as exact a term as I can, sucks. It sucks all the life and all the emotion out of this classic. It's sterile, digital and nasty. The 1998 remaster is much better, and, at least until I heard this DCC remaster, seemed to fulfill me as well as I thought CD could. Of the two vinyl versions I have, one is an original pressing that has been lovingly abused over the years and, while full of the emotional information on the platter, is lacking in many of the audiogeek details. The second version, a later '70s pressing, is well — cared-for and packs the strongest level of impact of all the various versions I had previously heard, even if it was a less than "Super Disc" pressing. But the Hoffman DCC is the real deal. In comparison, the '98 remaster, which had previously sounded full of life, sounds digital and dry. And yes, the DCC disc easily outduels the vinyl versions I've heard. For this mandatory album, this is the mandatory version, no questions, cavils or caveats.
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