Ever since Joni Mitchell abandoned, four albums ago, traditional metric and melodic concerns (much as a painter changes his style by relinquishing line or color) her songs have taken on a rambling, improvisatory quality - lines are crammed with syllables, singing has given way to unmusical intoning - making them more inaccessible, more difficult to distinguish.
But repeated listening steadily exposes their individual identities and brilliance. It happened for me with her "Hissing of Summer Lawns" and even more quickly with her latest, "Hejira" a collection of songs about flight, escape, the road (an "Hejira" being a journey to a desirable place).
Emphasis is now on increasingly introspective lyrics in which she balances her obsessive yet futile search for love ("Love's a repetitious danger / you'd think I'd be accustomed to"*) With her flight from relationships gone sour, calling herself "a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway." The two themes culminate breathtakingly in "Amelia," arguably her masterwork (The Village Voice) saw fit to cite the entire seven-stanza lyric in a review. Addressed to the aviatrix: "It's so hard to obey / his sad request of me to kindly stay away / so this is how I hide the hurt / as the road leads cursed and charmed / ...Amelia, it was just a false alarm."* "Black Crow" is tinged with a dark soaring and swooping in her voice, while "Blue Motel Room" is more lighthearted ("I know that you've got all those pretty girls coming on / hanging on your boom-boom pachyderm / ...Honey, tell 'em you got germs." substituting bluesy riffs for her usual frantically strummed chords.
My personal favorite is "Song for Sharon," which, though over eight minutes long, never falters, steadily playing a complexity of images and emotions against metallic instrumentation and Joni's own chanted backing vocals (a la "Woodstock").
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