The extraordinary songstress who gave us "Both Sides Now," "Chelsea Morning," "Woodstock," and several fine albums, justifies her reputation again on her latest work, For the Roses. It represents a more mature progression from her last album, Blue in both its medium and its message. For while Joni's music is itself becoming more complex and interesting, her songs are beginning to treat other themes besides her favorite one - love. The last few lines of Blue found Joni "Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings / and fly away / Only a phase, these dark cafe days." Well the dark cafe days seem to be over, and the cocoon is very slowly becoming a butterfly. Although she has yet to find real fulfillment, she has succeeded in finding out and revealing more about herself on each album.
"Banquet" is typical Mitchell, beginning very much like "My Old Man," with Joni soloing on the piano, her voice simple and sweet, with an occasional tremolo. This is her view of an unfair world overseen by a god who seems not to care, and certainly not to deliver: "Some get the gravy / And some get the gristle / Some get the marrow bone / and some get nothing / Though there's plenty to spare." We move next to a song of contrasts - from the title's imagery, "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire," to the harsh but natural picking and sliding sounds of her guitar, to the incredible purity of her voice describing a harrowing vision of heroin addiction, in which Lady Release beckons: "You can't deny me / Now you know what you need." This is one of several songs on the album for which James Taylor, Joni's former flame, seems to be the inspiration. "Barandgrill" finds Joni longing for the deceptively simple and carefree lives of the likes of waitresses, truck drivers, and gas station attendants. It is only, however, a superficial longing for an easy release, similar to that provided by heroin. Her peace of mind must come by other means. "Lesson in Survival" is yet another treatment of Joni's perennial theme: the inability to achieve a satisfying love relationship: "Maybe it's paranoia / Maybe it's sensitivity / Your friends protect you / Scrutinize me / I get so damn timid / Not at all the spirit / That's inside of me." Her relationship with her mother and father is the subject of "Let the Wind Carry Me," which features woodwinds, lush piano interludes, and strange vocal choruses - herself overdubbed several times. The guitar-accompanied title song is one of the five songs on the album which lament the failure to hold on to a lover, who very much fits Sweet Baby James' description. It is a bittersweet portrayal of a lone minstrel who forgets Joni in his rise to commercial superstardom.
Starting off side two is another simple song about being hurt by love - "See You Sometime," unusual for our time in its putting forth the desire for even Platonic friendship. "Electricity," except for its beautiful melody, is a verbal mess, in which the use of metaphor is overdone to the extent of making the song a puzzle. The A.M. and F.M. hit, "You Turn Me On I'm a Radio" is an absolute jewel of a song, the only totally joyous one on the album, in which everything blends perfectly. In "Blonde in the Bleachers," Joni again demonstrates her understanding of the whole rock 'n' roll stardom game, including the intrusion upon personal privacy. The added body and coloring given to the song by the drums, heard three-fourths of the way through, is an effect of which Miss Mitchell should take more frequent advantage. If there's one song on this album that says it all for Joni, "Woman of Heart and Mind" is it. This is where she lays bare her soul to James, or to whomever it is she feels slighted by: "I am a woman of heart and mind ... I'm looking for affection and respect / A little passion / And you want stimulation - nothing more." Like "Electricity," "Judgment of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig's Tune)" is something of a puzzle, in which she for some reason, finds it necessary to advise Beethoven to stand up for his work and for how he feels and for what he believes. We soon come to realize that she is really directing this advice to herself and to her audience.
Joni Mitchell is unique in that she is the only major female folk songstress who composes both the music and lyrics to all her songs. Besides being a first-rate poet and composer, she is graced with a unique voice, the likes of which we will not likely hear for a long time. Sweet, simple, fragile and yet strong, she lulls us and her songs eventually become part of us in ways that those of Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Roberta Flack, and Carly Simon simply cannot. She sings of the joys and agonies of love, revealing her most private self, as few can or do. Though more complex and varied, For the Roses, both musically and lyrically, is not as strong or as satisfying an album as Blue, Joni's masterpiece. Yet its many instances of beauty and inspiration recommend it to all of her fans, and to all those who still have in store for them the pleasure of getting to know Joni Mitchell.
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