Joni Mitchell - The Hissing Of Summer Lawns
[TrackList follows] -
Asylum Records ASYLUM 7E-1051 (1975) / Speakers Corner Records (2008)
180-gram audiophile stereo vinyl, 42:34 ****1/2:
(Joni Mitchell - guitar, piano, synthesizer, vocals; Joe Sample - electric piano, keyboards; Victor Feldman - electric piano, vibes, conga; Larry Carlton - electric guitar; Robben Ford - electric guitar; Jeff Baxter - electric guitar; James Taylor - electric guitar, vocals; David Crosby - vocals; Graham Nash - vocals; Bud Shank - saxophone, flute; Chuck Findley - trumpet, flugelhorn; Max Bennett - bass; Wilton Felder - bass; John Guerin - drums, keyboards; The Warrior Drums Of Burundi; Dave Oehler - string arrangements)
Joni Mitchell might be one of the greatest cultural exports from Canada. But she is most revered as the embodiment of the Southern California singer/songwriting community. Early in her career, songs like "Urge For Going", "Woodstock" and "Both Sides Now" were covered respectively by Tom Rush, Crosby, Stills Nash & Young and Judy Collins. It was inevitable that her music would be viable. Signed to Reprise Records (with the help of David Crosby), she became an accomplished solo artist, and produced several brilliant albums. Clouds, Ladies Of The Canyon, Blue and For The Roses established Mitchell as one of the unique voices of her generation. Her alchemy of open-tuned guitar, meditative piano and complex vocals drew critical acclaim (8 Grammys) and a genre-bending fan base.
A key directional change happened with the release of Court And Spark. On this album, Mitchell collaborated with jazz fusion musicians. Singles like "Raised On Robbery" and "Free Man In Paris" showcased her superb vocal range and uncanny ability to merge pop and jazz. Additionally, the compositions expanded beyond folk constructs. This stylistic enhancement influenced future releases.
The Hissing Of Summer Lawns showcases Joni Mitchell as a fearless musician who has no intention of cashing in on her pop successes. Side One opens with a recollection of life in 1950s Canada "In France They Kiss On Main Street"). After a familiar acoustic guitar, the song morphs into a jazzy groove, with Victor Feldman's electric piano meshing with Max Bennett's bass and John Guerin's drums. Robben Ford and Jeff Baxter spice things up with electric guitars. What never changes is the ethereal vocals (including David Crosby, Graham Nash and James Taylor) and the unique accelerated phrasing of Mitchell. Venturing into experimental territory, "The Jungle Line" uses a sampled African drum line (Drums of Burundi) providing an anchor to Mitchell's vocal and synthesizer overdubs. As sole producer, she pushes the boundaries of typical arrangements.
But the jazz forays capture the transitional spirit of THOSL. A hip tale of a criminal and his moll ("Edith And The Kingpin") is rendered as a graceful jazz piece. The inclusion of Chuck Findley (trumpet), Bud Shank (saxophone/flute), Larry Carlton (electric guitar), and Joe Sample (electric piano) complement Mitchell's graceful singing. The meditative ambiance infuses "Shades Of Scarlett Conquering". A slight variation can be heard in the string arrangement by Dave Oehler. Every nuance seems to frame the haunting vocals.
Joni Mitchell is a gifted lyricist, often weaving philosophical shading into the context. The title track utilizes suburban imagery to detail a portrait of a woman's melancholic angst. On "The Boho Dance", she addresses the pretense of the business of art. Mitchell has the knack of merging poetic expression with musical interpretation. She establishes bona fide jazz singer élan on the Johnny Mandell/Jon Hendricks tune, "Centerpiece". Her vocal range is impressive (even has a blues dynamic). Joe Sample's piano and various tempo brakes enliven this cut. At the core of The Hissing Of Summer Lawns is the aesthetic vision. The finale ("Shadows And Light") is performed entirely by Mitchell. Exquisitely textured, multi-tracked vocals (some a cappella) are tinted with an ARP synthesizer in a lyrical Celtic/gospel hymn.
Speakers Corner Records has done an outstanding job in re-mastering The Hissing Of Summer Lawns. The overall engineering and sound quality is superior. All of Mitchell's tonality (whether tender and brooding, or playfully brisk) is captured with warmth and agility. The stacked backup vocals are blended without density. The instrumentation is low-key, never invasive. Despite being nominated for a Grammy, the album got a lukewarm reception. It may be time for a serious re-evaluation based on the outstanding fidelity of this reissue.
Side One: In France They Kiss On The Street; The Jungle Line; Edith And The Kingpin; Don't Interrupt The Sorrow; Shades Of Scarlet Conquering
Side Two: The Hissing Of Summer Lawns; The Boho Dance; Harry's House Centerpiece; Sweet Bird; Shadows And Light