Looking at a picture of Joni Mitchell in her latest songbook, the overwhelming impression that strikes me is that Joni the writer, Joni the singer, and Joni the person are one and the same. When she performs her poetry there is no doubt that she has experienced each line inside and out-if the songs do not tell of her own life (which many seem to do), she at least projects a sense of real identification with each situation she sings of. When Judy Collins recorded "Both Sides, Now," its beautiful images and lush orchestration made it a million-copy seller. But not until Joni herself sang it on her second album, accompanied only by her guitar, did the song become the simple, personal statement of a disillusioned dreamer that it was intended to be.
Joni Mitchell's appearance at the Boston Music Hall last Monday night was a reinforcement of this impression. Even one not familiar with her recordings could immediately tell that she was not performing from behind a stage mask, but genuinely sharing her musical thoughts with a group of friends (in this case, a packed house). She seemed as sensitive to the implications of her words as if she were hearing them for the first time, especially the love songs, at which she excels in both content and style. Accompanying herself with equal skill on the guitar, piano and dulcimer, each song was technically perfect. Her unusual voice, which sounds at once both innocent and knowing, was clear and beautiful despite the cold that she apologized for at the beginning of the show. Joni has a tremendous range and a unique system of vocal expressions that can convey every conceivable emotion, from the lightheaded playfulness in "Carey" to the sympathy of "He Played Real Good For Free" and the solemn celebration of "Woodstock."
The program included several new songs, which sounded still in the experimental stage but were distinctively in her style. They were generally of a serious nature, except for the amusing "Oh, Honey, You Turn Me On - I'm a Radio." The ten or twelve of the songs that she sang were mostly from her last two albums. Joni's songs show incredible imagination-they are not typical folk songs that pretentiously attempt to solve social problems, but rather tales of people and places that inspire personal feelings. She employs vivid imagery and metaphor in all her songs which heighten the listener's sensations as she performs. Particularly beautiful and touching was "A Case of You," a melancholy plea for reconciliation with a lost love:
Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Ho I could drink a case of you, darling
And I would still be on my feet
I would still be on my feet.
Joni ended the show with two encores, the second being "The Circle Game," which she invited everyone to stand and sing with her. It was a very happy ending. Jackson Browne, a songwriter who has turned singer and who has written for Tom Rush and others, was the warm-up act. I found him generally mediocre - his songs were pleasant but unmemorable and he has problems with his vocal range onstage. But seeing and hearing Joni Mitchell live was more than worth the price of admission. She has seen the world but still retains the innocent presence of a child. Using her own definition, she is truly a lady of the canyon.
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