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Getting the Message Print-ready version

by Beverley Ross
Branching Out (Edmonton)
April 1976
Original article: PDF

It seems that every new Joni Mitchell album is her best. "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" is no exception. Very few artists have managed to survive and grow in the ruthless climate of the "pop" music world in the way that Mitchell has. Critics have accused her of being too introspective, too painfully honest. I've always believed that this criticism came from those too inflexible to accommodate her point of view. Hardened by their (often male) roles, they seem untouched by her minute perception of the world and her image in it. But as the edges of these roles gradually become blurred, perhaps Mitchell has come to realize that she speaks not only for herself but also for many women and men who identify with her vision.

The poetry of this new group of songs is more self-assured, more universal than before. It is still Mitchell magic, but here the other personae outnumber the formidible [sic] "I" of her past albums. The imagery is a mixture of both the fanciful and the urbane:

Battalions of paper-minded males
Talking commodities and sales
While at home their paper wives
And their paper kids
Paper the walls to keep their gut reactions hid
Yellow checkers for the kitchen
Climbing ivy for the bath
She is lost in House and Garden
He's caught up in Chief of Staff
© 1975 Crazy Crow Music

Since there are no production credits on the album, one can assume that Mitchell and the musicians she worked with are responsible for the masterful direction of the album. An acknowledged leader in the search for "new" sounds, Mitchell continues to experiment with songs like "The Jungle Line", where lyrics juxtapositioning "uptown" images with figures from Rousseau's paintings are superimposed on a musical backdrop of Moog synthesizer and Burundi warrior drums. Her use of "voice-as-instrument" techniques, where masses of multi-traced vocals are used like horns and strings, continues to be copied for its innovation. "In France They Kiss on Mainstreet [sic]," the inevitable "top-40" track, makes no concession to that market. Also intriguing is the Jon Hendricks' tune, "Centrepiece" set right in the middle of "Harry's House." The album continues with a traditionally rooted half a capella [sic], half choral song "Shadows and Light":

Critics of all expression
Judges of black and white
Saying it's wrong
Saying it's right
Compelled by prescribed standards
Or some ideals we fight
For wrong, wrong and right
Threatened by all things
Man of cruelty - Mark of Cain
Drawn to all things
Man of delight - born again, born again.
© 1975 Crazy Crow Music

I prefer to receive the messages a la Mitchell but I won't ask you to judge by my "prescribed standards." Be drawn to that which delights you.

Beverley Ross is an arts instructor at the Youth Development Centre in Edmonton. She also sings, composes and contributes regularly to Branching Out.

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