The world's premier singer and songwriter has just released a monster. Joni Mitchell certainly hasn't let anyone down with Hejira, an album which may well be remembered as the top album of 1976. As good as Jackson Browne or even Bob Dylan may be, when compared with Ms. Mitchell they're both mere amateurs. She's that good. Her songwriting remains as vivid and expressive as ever. Whether she's singing about the life of a bird in "Song To A Seagrull [sic]" from her first album, her experience in Greece, in "Carey," or being involved with a movie executive in "The Arrangement," Joni is able to communicate her feelings to the listener as sincerely as if she were pouring out her feelings and beliefs to an analyst. She has the lyrical power to make her listeners feel as if they've known her for years, while her vocal prowess is simply astonishing. In an age when just about anyone can walk into a recording studio sounding like a Phoebe Snow and walk out knowing that, through the use of modern technology and gimmickry, their vocals will turn out respectably, voices like Mitchell's should be regarded as authentic natural resources.
Ever since the first album, her breathy soprano was magically able to soar up and down through the most complex of melodies, to shift effortlessly lowest of low notes, with consistent spontaneity. In a nutshell, as a singer, and also a songwriter, Joni Mitchell's a perfectionist searching for, she hasn't found. Her life has been a travelogue, flying all over the world and never really staying in any one place long enough to really call it home. As the title implies, Hejira is an exodus, an escape from reality. Maybe the whole superstar syndrome is becoming too burdensome for her and she wants to just forget about her responsibilities as Joni Mitchell superstar and become Joni Mitchell, commoner once again. Her lyrics reflect a longing for this escape, hejira, continually. In the album's prettiest song, "Amelia," Joni sings:
"A ghost of aviation
She was swallowed by the sky
Or by the sea, like me she had a dream to fly
Like Icarus ascending
On beautiful foolish arms
Amelia, it was a false alarm.
Maybe I've never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I've spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes
And looking down on everything
I crashed into his arms
Amelia, it was a false alarm."
The lyrics of "Amelia," as beautiful as they are, must be heard to fully be appreciated. The song was put together exquisitely; Larry Carlton on lead guitar and Victor Feldman on vibes provide a dream-like backing to the angelic vocal performance Joni gives.
I could go on forever about this album, one of the rare albums which leaves you in such shock after a listening that you begin to seriously wonder whether Joni Mitchell is really human, or if she was blessed with some magical power that gives her the ability to put out such incredibly great music. She's put out Blue, For the Roses, (which in this reviewer's opinion has to be the best album ever recorded) Ladies Of The Canyon, and now Hejira. The empress of music reigns on.
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