Joni Mitchell is familiar to many as a lyricist rather than as a performer. She managed to do one show at Carnegie Hall last May and even showed up at a McGovern benefit this summer, but lately she has restricted her appearances to that of spectator. On rare occasions she would be invited up on stage to join a friend like James Taylor or Neil Young, but of a multitude of established solo artists, Joni has the singular distinction of not going "on the road" each year. Her latest album, For the Roses, is in part, an explanation why.
For the Roses, Joni's fifth album and the first on the Asylum label, reveals a lot of Joni Mitchell - more than any of her earlier albums, though it's just a matter of degree. Where her songs once centered around friends and lovers and the illusory trips they weaved so carefully, For the roses is Joni coming to terms with Joni:
Well I'm learning
With a good dog and some trees
Out of touch with the breakdown
Of this century
For the roses. Roses. That's what they place around a horse's neck after he's won the big race. And more roses and more roses until the horse is played out and then they shoot him.
The rock circuit is too much. It can break your spirit and your heart. Three songs on the album deal with the necessary abuse which accompanies fortune and fame. A sort of anti-Top of the Pops. And Joni Mitchell has been watching it from both sides of the stage. And America's virgin groupies who have been hunting rumors about Joni and Neil or Joni and David or Graham or Steven or Jackson or James now know:
"...You can't hold the hand
Of a Rock and Roll man
Or count on your plans
With a Rock 'n' Roll man
- Blond in the Bleachers
Ironically, Steven Stills plays the part of the rock 'n' roll man in this song. But thankfully Joni doesn't lament about broken love. Beneath it she is self-resurrected.
"Let the Wind Carry Me" is Joni's portrait of life at home. It seems some situations can't be resolved. So you eventually leave, but one eye is always on the house. Joni's song is an open letter to Mother, who just couldn't understand what was happening.
There are songs of love, of love over, of love on the lookout, but mostly of trying to get it together, independently, far from the rock and roll breed.
Don't make the same mistake I did, that is, interpreting this record as a sad record. At first listening it may seem somewhat morose, but the key to the album is in the last crucial cut, "Judgment of the Moon and Stars" - the underlying optimism which follows every bummer. The secret is discovering it before you go under.
Joni sings 12 beautiful songs and the lyrics are printed inside the cover. Her voice is as versatile as it is beautiful. Incidentally, the songs flow very well with the music, as well as with each other. I could discuss the album in empirical terms, track by track, but I've stopped doing that to music. Besides, if you weren't curious, you wouldn't be reading this.
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