The author of this article, Bruce Malamut, has written rock articles for years for magazines such as Crawdaddy, the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Circus, Penthouse, and Creem. He recently located this article on this site and has graciously allowed us to keep the article here, despite receiving no monetary compensation for it. It's the kindness of people like Bruce that help spread the 'Joni gospel' to people across the globe. Thanks Bruce!
Searching for a flash, a spark? Music to take you out... those reflective moments after a certain film, any artistic discipline, the subway disappears and you've become one with the hero. Catharted listener, just leave it to Joni.
She rides shotgun with the muse growing closer to him the older she gets. Wisdom grows on Joni like ivy. She pretends nothing, she is an artist—a gifted entity in L.A. And although she "couldn't let go of L.A./City of the fallen angels," she is not a poet of Los Angeles, and ultimately, she don't look back. "Love came to my door/With a sleeping roll and a madman's soul/He thought for sure I'd seen him/Dancing up a river in the dark/Looking for a woman to court and spark." To court and spark....
In the Poetry Sweepstakes, she's nose-to-nose with Randy Newman. Their distinction, however, is one of altitude. Where Newman is the social mole, dissecting the earth's underbelly, Mitchell has already clambered below. Existential—her analysis is self- rather than other-oriented—she's got the itch to Be: Everything comes and goes/ Pleasure moves on too early and trouble leaves too slow." The elliptic complexity of some of the lyrics on Spark speaks incisively, while her music's fresher sense may attract new converts.
A visceral attraction to the sounds alone defies any discussion of art and complex lyricism. That jazz-tinted contralto swoops like feathers floating in stillness, like thick honey in your gut. She is the most inspired American female vocalist; her identification quotient is very high. For example, "I'm waiting for his car on the hill/it always seems so righteous at the start/When there's so much laughter, so much spark/When there's so much sweetness in the dark." The sheer world-lived-in experience-bulk you can feel in her voice, a breathiness which bespeaks her life-wear.
All the familiar characteristics—her continued exploration of emotional terrain and her heralded vocal dexterity— form a solid base from which this album works changes. What is new and indicative of the push forward by a self-conscious artist is the innovation with which she approaches style on this lp. The pure genius of her horn and string arrangements throughout—for instance the bridge on "Car on a Hill," with its sublime move into arythmicality, synthesizer, over-dubbed choirs and general symphonic tone-poetizing—is splendid. Joining in this venture is co-arranger Tom Scott. Indigenous to Southern California, Scott not only plays a sweet woodwind horn but displays a flare for tricky, yet spare arrangement. His tenor playing is explosive, which is to say that "Raised on Robbery" burns like a train on fire.
And then there's the question of freedom:
I used to count lovers like railroad cars
I counted them on my side
Lately I don't count on nothing
I just let things slide
The stationmaster's shuffling cards
Boxcars are banging in the yards
Jealous lovin'l1 make you crazy
If you can't find your goodness
Cause you lost your heart.
She's innocent? "Oh sour grapes" Joni re-thinks it, "Because I lost my heart." This explained past loves and lessons still-unlearned to me, a chronological youngster. Sometimes it does not come easy. But, then, there's the opposite: pure energy. Verbal resonance cutting straight across poetic bounds:
You've had lots of lovely women/ Now Turn your gaze to me
Weighing the beauty and imperfection/To see if I 'm worthy
Like the church... like a cop... like a mother
You want me to be truthful
Sometimes you -turn it on me like a weapon though
And I need your approval
"Yet" I need your approval? No, "and." To experience politics, Joni reacts angrily, precisely and personally to the roots of guilt and love alike. The music acts throughout as the subtle bed, a spectrum of session men: Milt Holland, Chuck Findlay, Joe Sample's outstanding electric piano and the obligatory Crosbynash. I hate to say it, but I just got to pondering over how incredibly surface-level, statically well-fed and self-satisfied Nash's Wild Tales were—and I listened close—and how they... Well, Joni, for one, ain't so content.
Still I sent up my prayer
Wondering who was there to hear
I said, "Send me somebody
Who's strong and somewhat sincere"
With the millions lost and lonely ones
I called out to be released
Caught in my struggle for higher achievement
And my search for love that don't seem to cease
None of us should ever cease.