Blue - Joni Mitchell (Reprise MS 2038)
I remember the first time I saw Joni Mitchell perform. It was at the Troubador [sic] in Los Angeles a little over three years ago. She seemed shy and nervous before the small, appreciative audience that night, even though everyone there was aware that they were seeing a girl who would soon be recognized as a truly remarkable singer and songwriter. Joni's songs have a way of grabbing on and enveloping the listener. The intense involvement that she has with her songs makes you involved in them too. And that's what songs should do.
I've welcomed each Joni Mitchell album into my collection with special care, and given them all time to sink in far enough so that they won't ever leave my head. After a few weeks with Blue, I must say that I think it's her best album yet, and certainly one of the best records of the year.
Blue is so vastly different from Joni's previous work that some people might be turned off by it. Gone is most of the close-knit structuring of songs. Real images have replaced visual symbols. Musically, Joni's genius has grown so that she is pursuing new sounds and tones. She plays dulcimer on three of the ten tunes, piano on four and guitar on only three. And each instrument is perfect for each individual song.
"All I Want," the opening track, gives indications of Joni's new style. Her dulcimer and James Taylor's guitar weave a highly rhythmic rug on which the vocal seems to glide. Her singing is much freer than it's ever been and her poetry is looser and has an unbelievably natural, conversation-like quality to it ("I want to knit you a sweater/want to write you a love letter/I want to make you feel better/want to make you feel free").
"Carey," with Steve Stills on guitar and bass, is a nice, fast number. When the chorus comes and Joni sings, "Carey get out your cane," you feel a back-up chorus answering her, and, sure enough, they do. When she sings of buying rounds of wine for everyone at the cafe, you feel the spirit of the evening in her voice.
"California" is another bright song with some very tasteful playing by Joni on dulcimer, Taylor on guitar, Russ Kunkel on drums and Sneeky Pete of the Burritos on pedal steel. Each time she sings, "Oh, it gets so lonely, the steel guitar slides in beautifully." And there's a great line, "Will you take me as I am, strung out on another man?"
"This Flight Tonight" again has that rhythmic feel to it. Joni sings, "Got the headphones on high, can't numb you out of my mind," and the raunchy sound of a rock band (Joni, Kunkel and Sneeky) fades in and quickly out and the song continues. "A Case of You" is a beautiful love song probably written for Taylor. "You're in my blood like holy wine/You taste so bitter and so sweet. Oh I could drink a case of you darling/and I would still be on my feet."
"Little Green" is a pretty tune, but somehow seems out of place on the album. It sounds a lot like some of her earlier songs and the guitar is vaguely reminiscent of "Circle Game," yet it has that delicate touch that so many of her songs have. "Call her green and the winters cannot fade her/Call her green for the children who have made her."
"River," originally chosen as the title track, is a terribly haunting song. She did it at Kleinhans in December of '69, right in the middle of "Willy." I guess she figured that having both songs together in one album just wouldn't fit. This song is about her breakup with Graham Nash, and she plainly states that it was her fault. "I'm so hard to handle/I'm selfish and I'm sad/Now I've gone and lost the best baby that I ever had/I wish I had a river I could skate away on." At the beginning and end of the song, she plays the first few bars of "Jingle Bells" (the song was written around Christmas time) in ascending minor keys, and it takes a few listenings to realize what song it is, so well does it fit in with the mood of "River."
"Blue" is another terribly sad song, about trying to get through heavy changes in a world dominated by "Acid, booze and ass/needles, guns and grass. Blue, here is a shell for you. Inside you'll hear a sigh, a foggy lullaby." Again, there is that tension set up by the piano and voice. It's the type of song that keeps you awake just as you think you're falling asleep.
This album has a great many sides and forms to it, and you really have to concentrate on it to understand its beauty. Joni Mitchell is one of the few artists who continue to grow even after enjoying success. Just a fantastic record.
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