Joni Mitchell Sings Her Blues

by Peter Reilly
Stereo Review
October 1971

Provocative images and thoughtful messages add up to an album that is quite probably her best yet

Joni Mitchell continues to demonstrate that she is not only an actress-singer but a composer of considerable power: her newest (and aptly titled) album "Blue" for Reprise is an unqualified success on both counts. It is a collection of what once were called "torch" songs, but Miss Mitchell adds an extra dimension to her "my man's gone now" theme by introducing a spare, satirical element that is sometimes directed at herself, sometimes at her partners. It is this balanced dispassion which makes her work truly womanly rather than merely girlish.

And, if her songs are based on personal experience, she certainly does seem to have had a rough time of it in the Game of Love. In the song *California* she meets a red-neck on a Grecian isle who "...gave me back my smile/But he kept my camera to sell." The subject of *My Old Man* is apparently given to irregular disappearances, thus causing Joni to collide with the blues and to discover that "The bed's too big/The frying pan's too wide." That last phrase (think about it) is a *genuine* image, provocative and palpable. There are others like it running all through her compositions, and they regularly bring the listener to sharp attention with the unmistakable clang of sardonic truth.

Though the subject of all these songs is the blues, Miss Mitchell's extraordinary performances of them quickly remove any possibility that they might all add up to a bad case of the sulks. For instance, her nervous, slightly weird soprano makes *My Old Man* a touching and poignant story rather than a tiresome, weepy complaint. Also, the near-perfection of her arrangements and accompaniment (both Stephen Stills and James Taylor sat in on guitar during the sessions), the beautifully finished (in the sense of complete) sound of each track, all contribute to what may be her best album yet.

I think the finest thing about "Blue," however, is its message of survival. "Well, there's so many sinking now/You've got to keep thinking/You can make it through these waves/Acid, booze, and ass/Needles, guns and grass/Lots of laughs, lots of laughs./Well everybody's saying that hell's the hippest way to go/Well, I don't think so." These words sound to me very like a pointed and pertinent warning to that part of a generation that talks a lot about getting it all together but begins to seem less and less capable of really doing so.

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