1972 was a good year for American Rock music and specifically folk-rock and its variants. The year started out with Paul Simon's reappearance as a polished folk-rock artist. Jackson Browne, The Eagles, John Denver, The Band, as well as many lesser known groups and artists from the same label came out in fine form. Among the "well-knowns", however, Joni Mitchell again has come to the forefront through her "For the Roses" effort. Ah - sometime, just too beautiful. Joni emerged from the plains of Canada four years ago, and in that time has never ceased to enrich the American music scene. Joni has become as American (in terms of her music) as duck, duck, goose, Orestes Brownson and all the other overly trite cliches which come to mind. Or has American music become Joni-Mitchell-ized? That really doesn't matter, however - Joni is so easy to love as an artist and a person, as revealed through her art.
You pick up "For the Roses." You know it's a Joni Mitchell album. You know you love Joni. You know you're biased. The cover is beautiful. She sits there, draped in forest green velvet, and boots. She sits in a forest, at the edge of a cliff, overlooking a bay. Beautiful. Peaceful. You turn it over. Hmn! Good people helping her out. James Burton, Steve Stills, Graham Nash, Henry Lewy, engineers. You feel it might be a little more commercial than her previous outings. You open it - Hmn! You pull the record out, turn on the old victrola, perk up the old ears!
"Banquet" is the first tune. In it Joni drives at you with her haunting piano introductions, her lyrics go soul-deep. In "Banquet" she slashes out at the social problems confronting us. Perhaps you feel that this is passe, don't - Joni sees hope. She looks to the banquet of the American Dream and sees people left out. "Who let the greedy in / Who left the needy out." "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" is the second band. It relates a very personal experience of Joni's. Agan [sic], a haunting melody and lyric, truly Joni. In it we are hit with Joni's sidemen in the form of very tasteful woodwind and reed background. The super hip, outasite, uptight, phoniness of certain elements of the bar scene are explored, criticized in "Barangrill." Joni doesn't condemn it, she lets it hang there as amusement, where cares can superficially be thrown away, but are instead only inflated through that superficiality. "Lesson in Survival" and "Let the Wind Carry Me" are presented as a medley. "Survival" is basically simple musically, complex and personal lyrically. She's lost a love through intimidation and mourns that loss through beautiful images of water, and approaches at the surreal, but doesn't reach it. It drifts into "Wind" which catches Joni as a little teenager in Canada. She Rock n' Rolls to her parents' annoyance. She becomes frustrated. You fall in love with her, the prairie girl, pigtails and all at 15. "For the Roses" finishes off side one. She relates the "business" of music. The heartbreak, hypocrisy and trivialities. The broken dreams lost to the promoters,, the "natural" beauty of talent devoured by enterprise.
So far Joni hasn't gone commercial - not too much! Side two starts with a personal stab at the past, exerting her freedom of being. She knows the past can't be forgotten, but you have to spring ahead from that boulder "Like a mama lion." "Electricity" is a cultured commentary on the technology of relationships, which this century has introduced. It's difficult to cope with. "You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio" is the commercialism we've been expecting - but it turns out to be beautiful, not overly done. Musically it's pleasantly country-rock, a throwback to a few years ago. In it she figures out her man, his problems, his hang-ups. She gives him free wheeling, she doesn't want "static" and boredom. She knows his tricks but loves him just the same. Sly old Joni! She's learned a lot. "Blonde in the Bleacher" is a fun tune, which seems to be written about Stephen Stills and his encounter with a groupie. It has a little Rock to it, and it's enjoyable. "Woman of Heart and Mind" again shows Joni's sensitivity to love. She seems lonely, confused. She doesn't know where her heart lies. She comes through as sort of a motherhood image, which isn't expected. She's doing a lot of searching, and it hurts. She's finding out about herself, she's growing and we're experiencing it. The last and longest song is "Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig's Tune)". It sound much like "My Old Man" from the "Blue" album. Here she explores the solitary path of the creative artist and how he (or she) can be misunderstood. She says to exert power: "Shake Your Fist at Lightning / Roar Like A Forest Fire." Creativity is power, solitude is strength. Combined they are beauty and fulfillment. Joni's frustrated here, maybe even disappointed. She's exerting her power.
Taken as a whole this album is really no great step forward, but is a bit more commercial than her previous efforts. Her lyrics stay complex and personal. Her music becomes a step more complex, a bit more driving. She remains peaceful. She's a pleasant bit of security in a sea of Grand Funks and Black Sabbaths. You still see hope in contemporary popular music in her. You love her.
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