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Mitchell masters styles Print-ready version

by Betsy Garcelin
Choragos (Mount Holyoke College)
February 10, 1977
Original article: PDF

Joni Mitchell once again produced an album of top musical quality. Called "Hejira," her latest album is distinctly different from her previous eight.

The term "hejira" or "hegira" refers specifically to Mohammed's 622 A.D. exodus from Mecca to Medina and more generally to any purposeful journey or flight. The album is a collection of songs pertaining to the emotional and physical experiences of Mitchell's travels.

Mitchell designed the album cover depicting several scenes in which she is in flight. She is photographed against a bleak wintry background with a highway tapering off into herself. Indeed, the highway is apparently a part of herself which she evinces in her frequent personal references to streets, highways and travel.

Mitchell seems to have mastered the haphazard rock and jazz styles she was experimenting with on her last album, "The Hissing of Summer Lawns." Without using more than four different instruments on any piece, Mitchell has expertly synthesized plucky bass and rhythm guitars while relying heavily on the deep, rich musical emphasis of her voice. The result is superb.

Mitchell is no longer making full use of the back-up band, "The L.A. Express," although drummer John Guerin and bassist Max Bennett appear in several pieces.

The rich simplicity of her music and her intricate, ballad-like lyrics contribute to the overall musical quality revealing more with repeated listenings.

The song entitled "Coyote" deals with a man Mitchell meets while traveling. She knows they are too different to stay together for long, yet she recognizes her need for companionship: "I'm up all night in the studios, and you are up early on your ranch...No regrets, Coyote, I just get off up aways, you just picked up a hitcher, a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway."

In "Refuge of the Roads," Mitchell refers to the symbolic image of the road as shelter, an escape from life's pressures: "I pulled off into the forest, crickets clicking in the ferns, like a wheel of fortune, I heard my fate turn, turn, and I went running down a white-sand road, I was running like a white-assed deer, running to lose the blues, to the innocence in here."

"Blue Motel Room" is markedly different from the other songs on the album because of its jazz-blues style. Mitchell sings with a slow, liquid richness. The lyrics portray an underlying humor in contrast to the more depressing themes of "Black Cow [sic]" and "Furry Sings the Blues."

Throughout her career as a songwriter and singer, Mitchell has changed her style noticeably, not so much in an effort to conform to the tastes of the time as to set trends. Anyone who has favorably followed Mitchell's progress will appreciate the fresh, intricate lyrical and fine musical quality of "Hejira."

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