Mitchell, Joni

Joni Mitchell is one of the most critically acclaimed, influential female singer-songwriters of all time. She has been credited as a major influence by artists such as Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Shawn Colvin and Madonna, and is widely credited with blazing a path for women who desire to make meaningful music.

Mitchell was born Roberta Joan Anderson on November 17, 1943 in Ft. McLeod, Saskatchewan, Canada. Hospitalized with polio at age 9, Mitchell began singing to entertain herself and others and, when she recovered, learned to play guitar using a book written by folk legend Pete Seeger. After finishing art school, the young singer-songwriter became a coffeehouse regular in Calgary, then moved to Toronto, where she met and married folk singer Chuck Mitchell. Now called Joni Mitchell, she and Chuck moved to Detroit. When they divorced, Joni remained in Detroit, where she became increasingly famous for her moving, heartfelt songs.

Successful New York shows led Reprise Records to sign Mitchell in 1967; her self-titled debut album, produced by David Crosby, came out the following year. Joni Mitchell, a concept album comparing city life to the seashore, was quickly followed by Clouds, another acoustic album, though darker, which reached the Top 40. 1970's Ladies of the Canyon expanded Mitchell's following with the radio hit "Big Yellow Taxi," an environmental ballad; it also featured longer instrumental passages and added complex accompaniment (piano, woodwinds and strings), two directions further explored in Mitchell's later work. Ladies of the Canyon also contains her song "Woodstock," later turned into a hit by her friend, David Crosby, with Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Joni Mitchell received widespread critical acclaim for her 1972 breakthrough Blue, an honest, introspective, acoustic effort that defined the "confessional" singer-songwriter album for years to come. 1973's For the Roses was a radical departure from Blue, a jazz-oriented, piano-guitar album that featured the hit single "You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio)." Mitchell continued drawing on jazz on 1974's Court and Spark, which reached No. 2 and spawned the singles "Raised on Robbery," "Help Me" and "Free Man in Paris."

The Hissing of Summer Lawns, released in 1975, broke new ground for Mitchell with its experimental mix of jazz, folk and world beat music (specifically, Burundi drumming). Hejira, released the following year, featured bass work by none other than Jaco Pastorius (of Weather Report); inspired by a road trip across the U.S., Hejira was Mitchell's most jazz-influenced album yet. 1977's Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, a double album, further pushed the boundaries of Mitchell's songcraft, consisting of detached, mostly improvisational jazz recorded with a cast of accomplished musicians, including Chaka Khan. 1979's Mingus (a jazz album, of course) grew out of a brief collaboration between Mitchell and jazz legend Charles Mingus, who died before the album was recorded.

After a several year hiatus, Mitchell returned to the studio in 1982 to record Wild Things Run Fast, her first album for Geffen Records. Reintroducing pop and folk to Mitchell's jazz stylings, Wild Things spawned the radio single "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care," an Elvis cover that became Mitchell's first commercial hit in nearly a decade. Three years later she returned with Dog Eat Dog, a jazz/folk/pop fusion which featured synthesizer work by Thomas Dolby. Mitchell continued her use of electronics on 1988's Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm, a percussion-heavy album featuring guest appearances by Peter Gabriel, Don Henley, Billy Idol, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson and ex-Cars member Benjamin Orr. Her next album, 1991's Night Ride Home, was a return to her folk roots, while 1994's Turbulent Indigo featured only Mitchell and her acoustic guitar, recalling her critically acclaimed work in the early 1970s.

In 1996 she released two compilations Hits and Misses; two years later, in 1998, she announced her first live concert appearances in more than a decade, supporting Bob Dylan on several of his West Coast dates. An album of new material, Taming the Tiger, appeared in 1998, while a collection of Mitchell singing old standards (such as “At Last” and “Stormy Weather”) called Both Sides Now was released in 2000.

In the fall of 2002, Mitchell released orchestrated versions of songs that span her career on Travelogue. Vince Mendoza served as arranger and conductor, while filmmaker Alison Anders documented the recording sessions. The film will be broadcast on PBS in March of 2003.


Travelogue 2002/Both Sides Now 2000/Painting with Words & Music 1999 Taming the Tiger 1998/Dog Eat Dog/Wild Things Run Fast 1996/Ghosts 1996/Big Yellow Taxi (The Remixes) 1996/Misses 1996/Hits 1996/Big Yellow Taxi 1995/Friends 1995/Turbulent Indigo 1994/Shadows & Lights [2 Disc Version] 1994/Home Video 1991/Special Night Ride 1991/Night Ride Home 1991/Come In from the Cold 1991/Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm 1988/Dog Eat Dog 1985/For the Roses/Court & Spark 1983/Wild Things Run Fast 1982/Shadows & Lights [Video] 1980/Shadow And Light 1980/ Shadows & Light 1980/Mingus 1979/Don Juan's Reckless Daughter 1977 Hejira 1976/Hissing Of Summer Lawns 1975/Miles Of Aisles 1974/Court & Spark 1974/For The Roses 1971/Blue 1971/Ladies Of The Canyon 1970/ Clouds 1969/Joni Mitchell 1968/ Joni Mitchell (Song To A Seagull) 1968/ Song to a Seagull 1968/Refuge of the Roads Lennie and Dom Songs (Early On)


Joni Mitchell
Turbulent Indigo

CD (October 25, 1994)
Original Release Date: October 25, 1994
Label: Warner Brothers

The 1996 Grammy winner for best pop album, Joni Mitchell's Turbulent Indigo is the singer's most distinctive and rewarding work since Wild Things Run Fast in 1982. Coproduced by Mitchell and her longtime collaborator and former husband Larry Klein, Turbulent Indigo is perhaps the only one of her '80s and '90s discs on which she isn't unduly hampered by studio technology. Whereas her rotten taste in synthesizers lent an automatically dated sound to 1988's Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm and 1998's Taming the Tiger, here the gadgetry is unobtrusive and enhances the power of Mitchell's voice and guitar playing. It also helps that this batch of songs is particularly evocative and well written, ranging from the graceful "How Do You Stop," on which she wonders how to stop "love from slipping away," to the wonderful vignette "Yvette in English," which describes a chance encounter between Picasso and a reluctant model. Paintings and painters are obviously a major theme on the disc--the cover is Mitchell's portrait of herself in the guise of Van Gogh--but more striking is her pessimistic view of humanity. "The Magdalene Laundries" describes the fate of girls left pregnant and abandoned in convent laundry rooms, "Not to Blame" details "the miseries made of love" for all the world's battered wives, and the title of "Sex Kills" is entirely self-explanatory. "The Sire of Sorrow (Job's Sad Song)," the album's finale, is nothing less than the cries of the much-put-upon Job against a heartless God who makes "everything I dread and everything I fear come true." The plaintive beauty of the music helps sweeten the potential sourness of Mitchell's lyrics. Indeed, the contrast gives great force to Turbulent Indigo and confirms that Mitchell's intellectual prowess and willfully contrary outlook are two qualities sorely missing in the work of many of the contemporary songwriters who cite her as their godhead. --Jason Anderson

Joni Mitchell
Night Ride Home

CD (March 5, 1991)
Original Release Date: March 5, 1991
Label: Geffen Records
Reviewer: Matt Marx from Mount Kisco, NY USA
Upon hearing the name "Joni Mitchell", the everyday joe thinks back to the early and mid-1970's, when breakthrough albums like Blue and Court And Spark nearly made her a household name in the music industry. What the everyday joe doesn't know, however, is that one of her most flavorful and deep albums to date was recorded far after her heyday. When the 1990's were drawing their infant breaths, under the grunge and teen-pop, Night Ride Home was released.

Joni's voice had gotten deeper along with her music. The now sharp and enigmatic singing blended with the haunting and mysterious guitar work, a far cry from the blissful and soaring songs she had written over 15 years earlier. The opening track, "Night Ride Home", is a swayable sensation written about a colorful 4th of July twilight (elaborated by crickets chirping in the background).

The title track is followed by the sophisticated "Passion Play", and the spine-chilling story of "Cherokee Louise". "The Windfall" and "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" are powerful, edgily-spoken songs that dive as dark as folk music can go.

"Come In From The Cold" is one of the album's most defining moments. The 7-minute opus is full to the brim of full-bodied acoustic guitar, soft percussion, and Joni's voice as powerful and radiant as ever. The song serves a story, with spellbinding lyrics ("We had hope, the world had promise for a slave to liberty. Freely, I slaved away for something better, and I was bought and sold. And all I ever wanted was to come in from the cold.")

The album concludes with four more tracks of the album's signature huskiness. Fans of Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, and even softer Neil Young will be put in a trance by the subtle mystery this album has to offer. This album is extremely dark, but by no means dismal.

With complex acoustic guitarwork and a sheer, emotional palate of lyrics and vocals to sing them, Night Ride home is essential for any Joni Mitchell fan, and those who enjoy the darker , huskier side of folk (a la Neil Young's 1992 Harvest Moon album). Hear the work of a true legend.

Joni Mitchell

Label: Elektra/Asylum
Reviewer: Thijs from Groesbeek, Gelderland Netherlands
This record takes some time to sink in if you are familiar with Joni's better known work like Blue, Court And Spark, THOSL and Hejira. Some of those albums have some jazz-vibe but this album is incredible sparse with music written by the late jazz musician Charles Mingus and lyrics from Joni. Two songs are written only by Joni herself because Mingus died before the project was completed. There are also a couple of raps with dialogue from the birthday of Mingus and other unknown people. Joni's voice sounds really on her peak here, not as high and screechy as on her first albums, and not so smokey and mature as on her later releases. Great musicians like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and ofcourse Jaco Pastorius lend their talents to this album. This is not a good introduction to Joni's work and surtainly not her best work, but if you want to explore the lesser-known work from Joni, give this album a go and you will be amazed by the riks this artist is willing to take. Instead of making music for the masses, Joni went her own way and creates something that's still original, even after 24 years!

Joni Mitchell

CD (October 25, 1990)
Original Release Date: November 1976
Label: Elektra/Asylum

Playing time: 51 min.
Contributing artists: Jaco Pastorius, Larry Carlton, Neil Young, Tom Scott, Victor Feldman
Producer: Joni Mitchell

Album notes

Personnel: Joni Mitchell (vocals, acoustic & electric guitars); Larry Carlton (acoustic & electric guitars); Abe Most (clarinet); Neil Young (harmonica); Chuck Findley, Tom Scott (horns); Victor Feldman (vibraphone); Jaco Pastorius, Max Bennett, Chuck Domanico (bass); John Guerin (drums); Bobbye Hall (percussion).Recorded at A&M Studios, Hollywood, California.All tracks have been digitally remastered using HDCD technology.Joni Mitchell draws freely on her heroes and influences, and in her turn inspires and informs the work of countless others; thus are the genes of our musical heritage passed on to new generations. The love of jazz glimpsed in COURT AND SPARK and THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS is wanton in HEJIRA. The arrangements are loose and the melodies seductively free-flowing. The lyrics, too, have broken free of rigid verse and rhyme structures and tend towards prose poetry. The cloak of introspection that weighs down on much of her work is lighter here; though far from mainstream. The chiming flanged guitar throughout, is inspired.

After the expanded instrumental scale and sonic experimentation of Court & Spark and The Hissing of Summer Lawns[EJM2], Joni Mitchell reverses that flow for the more intimate, interior music on Hejira, which retracts the arranging style to focus on Mitchell's distinctive acoustic guitar and piano, and the brilliant, lyrical bass fantasias of fretless bass innovator Jaco Pastorius. Known for his furious, sometimes rococo figures beneath the music of Weather Report, Pastorius is tamed by Mitchell's cooler, more deliberate ballads: these meditations coax a far gentler, subdued lyricism from Pastorius, whose intricate bass counterpoints Mitchell's coolly elegant singing, especially on the sublime "Amelia," which transforms the mystery of Amelia Earheart into a parable of both feminism and romantic self-discovery. This isn't Mitchell at her most obviously ambitious, yet the depth of feeling, poetic reach, and musical confidence make this among the finest works in a very fine canon. --Sam Sutherland 

CD (October 25, 1990)
Original Release Date: November 1976

Label: Elektra/Asylum

Joni Mitchell
The Hissing of Summer Lawns

CD (October 25, 1990)
Original Release Date: November 1975
Label: Elektra/Asylum

With The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell has moved beyond personal confession into the realm of social philosophy. All the characters are American stereotypes who act out socially determined rituals of power and submission in exquisitely described settings. Mitchell's eye for detail is at once so precise and so panoramic that one feels these characters have very little freedom. They belong to the things they own, wear and observe, to the drugs they take and the people they know as much if not more than to themselves. Most are fixed combatants in tableaux, rituals and scenarios that share Mitchell's reflections on feminism.

As might be expected, Mitchell's approach is very cerebral. In "Don't Interrupt the Sorrow," a poem of almost impenetrable mystery, she voices the core of her vision. Among other things, the song parallels modern forms of female subjugation with both Christian and African mythology in imagery that is disjunctive and telegraphic:

He says "Your notches liberation doll"

And he chains me with that serpent

To that Ethiopian wall

Winds of change patriarchs

Snug in your bible belt dreams.

"Edith and the Kingpin," a nightmarish urban tableau, portrays a pimp/pusher/mobster initiating a new girl into his stable of dope-entranced concubines. "The Jungle Line" also uses drug dealing as an effective metaphor for sexual and racial enslavement. Here again, Mitchell, never one to disavow the powerful glamour of evil, pulls a brilliant twist, uniting images of cannibalism, wild animals, slave ships and industrial squalor with the gorgeously innocent paintings of imaginary jungle scenes by the late-19th-century French Primitive, Henri Rousseau.

Always Mitchell displays enough moral ambiguity in her lyrics to avoid condescension; her latent impulse to anger is consistently redeemed by a compassionate, seemingly genuine sorrow, as well as by a visual artist's impulse to perceive the beauty in all things. The tension between Mitchell's moral and aesthetic principles is resolved with special grace in "Shades of Scarlet Conquering," the full-scale portrait of a southern belle very similar to Tennessee Williams's Blanche DuBois. Here Mitchell's feminist sensibility is implicit in her compassion:

Beauty and madness to be praised

It is not easy to be brave

To walk around in so much need

To carry the weight of all that greed

If Mitchell's view of the outcome of feminist struggle seems pessimistic, it is not totally hopeless. "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" and "Harry's House—Centerpiece" pose opposite solutions to a similar situation: the suburban wife as her husband's captive trophy—materially comfortable but emotionally and spiritually famished. In the first song, the wife remains with her husband:

Still she stays with a love of some kind

It's the lady's choice

The hissing of summer lawns

In the second, which is far superior, she leaves him. Here Mitchell's lyric evokes genuine conflict. Her excited fascination with the chic kineticism of New York high life sets up the tension between a life the writer perceives as attractive but dangerous as well:

He opens up his suitcase

In the continental suite

And people twenty stories down

Colored currents in the street

A helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof

Like a dragonfly on a tomb

The song then segues effortlessly into the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross tune, "Centerpiece," whose smug marriage proposal (" 'Cause nothing's any good without you/Baby you're my centerpiece") in the context of Mitchell's story seems devastatingly sexist and shallow as well as seductively hip. The song, moreover, doesn't disown the wife's responsibility for the marriage and its breakup. In the coda, the abandoned husband remembers his wife with her "Shining hair and shining skin/Shining as she reeled him in." Mitchell understands the enormous power and restlessness of a true siren.

Images of entrapment and enslavement (an artist to his patrons) also inform "The Boho Dance," the album's other song set in New York. Inspired by The Painted Word, Tom Wolfe's clever diatribe against the art world establishment, this recollected dialogue depicts the hypocrisy of a scene that only pretends not to be thoroughly commercialized.

Two philosophic songs, "Sweet Bird" and "Shadows and Light," fill out the album's schematic concept. The first is a serene meditation, tinged with sadness, on the fading of youth ("all these vain promises on beauty jars") that develops into a fatalistic lament for all that will eventually be extinct.

In sharp contrast to the languid reflectiveness of "Sweet Bird," "Shadows and Light," Mitchell's first venture into a quasi-liturgical writing style, stands halfway between incantatory prayer and sermon and also unravels some of the clues to the mystery of "Don't Interrupt the Sorrow." The song unites the antinomies of beauty and evil, freedom and slavery in a supremely relativistic statement of personal faith. While acknowledging the power of devils and gods, Mitchell perceives them as male myths, necessary for the creation of inevitably patriarchal systems. But "laws governing wrong and right," Mitchell recognizes, are "ever broken."

If The Hissing of Summer Lawns offers substantial literature, it is set to insubstantial music. There are no tunes to speak of. Since Blue, Mitchell's interest in melody has become increasingly eccentric, and she has relied more and more on lyrics and elaborate production. This parallels Mitchell's growing interest in jazz, a form that would seem the ideal vehicle for developing her gift.

Four members of Tom Scott's L.A. Express are featured on Hissing, but their uninspired jazz-rock style completely opposes Mitchell's romantic style. Always distinctly modal, Mitchell's tunes for the first time often lack harmonic focus. They are free-form in the most self-indulgent sense, i.e., they exist only to carry the lyrics. With the exceptions of "Shades of Scarlet Conquering" and "Sweet Bird," neither of which boasts a strong tune but at least have appropriately lovely textures, the arrangements are as pretentiously chic as they are boring.

The album's most flagrant example of pseudo-avant-gardism is the drum- and synthesizer-dominated arrangement for "The Jungle Line." Where Mitchell's "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" from For the Roses was a truly sinister evocation of addiction, its angular tune coiling on an intensely seductive vocal track, "The Jungle Line," which is quite similar in theme, sounds brittle, gimmicky and enervated. "Shadows and Light" suffers from too many vocal overdubs and a synthesizer that sounds like a long, solemn fart. The only catchy melody is the non-original "Centerpiece," and it lacks altogether the wit, sophistication and inventiveness of "Twisted," Mitchell's earlier excursion into the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross catalog.

If Joni Mitchell intends to experiment further with jazz, she ought to work with an artist of her own stature, someone like pianist Keith Jarrett whose jazz-classical compositions are spiritually and romantically related to Mitchell's best work. The Hissing of Summer Lawns is ultimately a great collection of pop poems with a distracting soundtrack. Read it first. Then play it. (RS 204)


Joni Mitchell Court and Spark

CD (October 25, 1990)
Label: Elektra/Asylum

COURT AND SPARK, Asylum. Grammy nominations for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female ("Court and Spark"); Album of the Year; Record of the Year ("Help Me"); Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist, with Tom Scott, arranger ("Down to You")

Painter-turned-folksinger Joni Mitchell had slipped stark saxophone solos into her prior album, For the Roses, and her singing had often hinted at a capacity for bluesier fare than her guitar- and piano-framed confessional ballads offered. None of those hints prepared fans for this sudden, expansive shift toward a much larger canvas--a sleeker, orchestrated pop style pulsing with jazz elements. Court & Spark found Mitchell casting aside her earth mother affectations and revealing herself as the thoroughly modern, thoroughly complicated woman she is; the songs sustained familiar preoccupations with relationships but replaced courtly settings and naturalistic imagery with recognizably modern locales. Deeply romantic, constantly questioning, classic tracks like the title song, "Help Me," "Free Man in Paris," "Same Situation," and "Raised on Robbery" display a more liberated Mitchell, ready to rumble with unbridled electric guitars (guest Robbie Robertson on "...Robbery"), even willing to poke fun at her own oh-so-sensitive rep with a hip cover of Annie Ross's hilarious "Twisted." --Sam Sutherland

Joni Mitchell For The Roses

CD (October 25, 1990)
Original Release Date: November 1972
Label: Elektra/Asylum
Sandwiched between the solitary, heart-on-her-sleeve confessions of Blue and the ravishing pop of Court and Spark, 1972's For the Roses captures Joni Mitchell in a deceptively subdued period of transition. Still hewing to a spare sound, Mitchell ventures beyond the elegant folk sources of earlier records to explore her love of blues and jazz-based harmony, writing as much on piano as guitar; thematically, the earnest reveries and heartbroken dirges of before give way to a more detached, even journalistic perspective and darker, grittier settings, most strikingly on "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire." "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio" was the set's nominal hit, yet in hindsight the keepers here are found in evolutionary pieces like the jazz-tinged "Barangrill," the rock-infused "Blonde in the Bleachers," and in more sober meditations like "Woman of Heart and Mind"--testaments to her restless growth and signposts to the more mature music ahead. --Sam Sutherland

Joni Mitchell
Ladies of the Canyon

CD (October 25, 1990
Original Release Date: April 1970
Label: Warner Brothers

Joni Mitchell's third album offers a bridge between the artful but sometimes dour meditations of her earlier work and the more mature, confessional revelations of the classics that would follow. Voice and guitar still hew to the pretty filigree of a folk poet, but there's the giggling rush of rock & roll freedom in "Big Yellow Taxi," and the formal metaphor of her older songs ("The Circle Game," already oft-covered by the time of this recording) yields to the more impressionistic images of the new ones ("Woodstock"). The dark lyricism of her earliest ballads is intact (on "For Free" and "Rainy Night House"), yet there's a prevailing idealism here that sounds poignant alongside the warier, more mature songs to come on Blue and Court And Spark. --Sam Sutherland

Joni Mitchell Clouds

CD (October 25, 1990)
Original Release Date: May 1969
Label: Warner Brothers

Grammy for Best Folk Performance or Best Folk Recording.

Joni Mitchell's second album contains the first manifestations of her artistic brilliance. Where her debut, Song to a Seagull, has hints of greatness, Clouds displays the real thing. With her newfound control on melody and lyrical economy, she delivers songs that are readily accessible, instantly hummable, and virtually timeless. Her hippie excesses are still in view ("Songs to Aging Children Come" is untamed), but, for the most part, she has found her voice. "Both Sides Now" has become a lite-FM staple (thanks to Judy Collins's cover). While songs such as the incredibly idyllic "Tin Angel" (nicely covered by Tom Rush on his classic Circle Game), "Chelsea Morning," and "I Don't Know Where I Stand" have become modern folk standards. --Rob O'Connor

Joni Mitchell
Song To A Seagull

CD (October 25, 1990)
Original Release Date: March 1968
Label: Warner Brothers
(previously called JONI MITCHELL)

Already a well-known songwriter with hits for Judy Collins and Tom Rush, she declined to record any of her familiar songs on her debut album, instead releasing sparely arranged, folky songs that either hit the mark dead on ("Cactus Tree") or wander off into obscurity ("The Pirate of Penance"). (DBW)
  One of her most musically challenging efforts, with a bunch of complex, moody, ultra-serious tunes that are hard to follow ("Nathan La Franeer") and often go on too long ("The Dawntreader") But everything that makes her early period so great is here to be heard: incredibly clear and powerful vocals; elaborate acoustic guitar picking; heavy lyrics with tons of metaphors; and a totally pure art-for-art's-sake attitude ("I Had A King"). "Cactus Tree" is really memorable, the flamenco-like "Penance" has a chilling melody and a fascinating second vocal part, there are no embarassments, and although the minor works wouldn't have made it onto Blue, they're enjoyable (the lush, romantic "Michael From Mountains"; "Sisotowbell Lane"; the oddly-timed "Song To A Seagull"). Everything's solo with guitar apart from the pop-flavored "Night In The City," which gets
Simon & Garfunkel-like bass, harpsichord-like piano, and counterpoint harmonies. Also known as Song To A Seagull, this was "produced" by David Crosby, meaning that he got her into the studio and let her loose. (JA)

Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell debuted in 1968 with this impressionistic and slightly overwrought album. Produced by David Crosby, the album uses very sparse instrumentation--mostly Mitchell on acoustic guitar with Stephen Stills on bass--to back Mitchell's incredibly complex lyrical forays. (The original LP's sides were subtitled.) But despite her grand plans, the disc is most successful in its humblest moments. "Michael from Mountains" (successfully covered by Judy Collins), "Night in the City," and "Marcie" all contain the seeds of Mitchell's best work, her melodic explorations, and observant eye. Tracks such as "The Dawntreader" and "The Pirates of Penance" are too close to creative-writing exercises to succeed. Nonetheless, a tantalizing debut. --Rob O'Connor