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Joni, James offer strange albums Print-ready version

by Don Shewey
The Rice Thresher (Houston)
December 7, 1972
Original article: PDF

"Remember the days when you used to sit
And make up your tunes for love
And pour your simple sorrow
To the soundhole and your knee
And now you're seen
On giant screens
And at parties for the press
And for people who have slices of you
From the company
They toss around your latest golden egg ..."
"For the Roses"

Long - time fans of Joni Mitchell will probably be quite surprised to hear For the Roses, her new album on Asylum Records - it is really the strangest record she has ever done. The songs are tremendously complex, and on first hearing it doesn't sound much at all like the author of great songs like "Both Sides Now," "The Circle Game," "Chelsea Morning," and so on. The emphasis is on the piano instead of guitar, on poetry instead of lyrics. Luckily, the songs get better at each hearing and eventually For the Roses turns out to be a better than-average Joni Mitchell LP and certainly her most ambitious to date.

The big numbers on the album are things like "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" with its Laura Nyro-like character-images, "You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio)" ("If you've got too many doubts/If there's no good reception for me then tune me out/'Cause, honey, who needs static, it hurts the head/And you wind up cracking and the day goes dismal/From 'Breakfast Barney' to the sign-off prayer ..."), and "Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig's Tune)," which has some bizarre horns and strings arrangements.

There are several rambling poem-songs which range from weak ones like "Lesson in Survival," to "Woman of Heart and Mind," which works well in this style. The most feeble lyrics are on "See You Sometime," one of those songs that can be applied to any one of Joni Mitchell's superstar ex-lovers, and "Blonde in the Bleachers" isn't much better. "Barangrill" (which features some seemingly incongruous but definitely insane woodwinds) and "Electricity" are considerably more well-constructed songs. None of the songs on this album seem destined to we widely recorded by other artists like previous Joni Mitchell tunes; the only really catchy song is "You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio)." This works to make For the Roses a more personal thing than Joni Mitchell's earlier albums.

One Man Dog, (Warner Brothers Records), James Taylor's latest offering, is also strange in a slightly more accessible way. There are 18 cuts, mainly a minute or two in length, which just flow together like the second side of Abbey Road. Traditionals, jigs, instrumentals, and sing-alongs ("Mescalito has opened up my eyes ...") take up about a third of the time. "Chili Dog," a sensational (and slightly obscene) little concert number, is included. The more substantial songs are along the line of most of James Taylor's; "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" will probably be a new J.T. classic.

Musical assistance on One Man Dog is provided by old friends and new friends - regular crew Russ Kunkel, Danny Kotchmar, Craig Doerge and Leland Sklar, plus Carole King, Carly Simon, Linda Ronstadt (who does a fine little solo on "One Morning in May"), and John McLaughlin, who adds acoustic guitar on one of his own compositions, "Someone." There are a lot of really nice, jazzy horn bits on a few songs. After three similar-sounding albums, it's good to know James Taylor can do something new every so often. One Man Dog is a pleasant musical grab-bag of styles.

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