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Joni Mitchell
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Joni Mitchell
Came Upon a Child of God-a tribute

Original Release Date December 12, 2000
As a die-hard Joni fan, I look forward to all new Joni-related projects, whether created by the goddess herself or others. But this one is questionable at best. While not an unpleasant listen (if only as 'background' music), the genuine Mitchell devotee will likely find these covers bland and inadequate. The cover of Chinese Cafe (while offering an acceptable orchestration) is pretty dreadful. It's odd that the performing artists aren't even listed on the liner notes (well, there are no liner notes, really). Perhaps that is why the price is so low. I guess this one has two valid prospective groups of buyers: Joni fans who just have to have all Mitchell-related work or are curious about it; and people who like Joni Mitchell songs but don't like her voice (imagine!).

Joni Mitchell
Dog Eat Dog

Release Date: 22 March, 1993
Label: Geffen

In the title song of 1976's 'Hejira,' Joni Mitchell sang about "the petty wars that shell shock love away." Her view of romance as war made her a great diarist, detailing each volley of each battle with a historian's insight and detail. After years spent musing in her parlor, Mitchell has concluded that Armageddon is coming, and now she's writing about real wars. It's not surprising that Joni can't unravel world politics in a couplet the way she could a romance, but it is disappointing that after a three-year silence, her social criticisms are merely the sort of bloodless liberal homilies you would expect from Rush.

In "The Three Great Stimulants," "Tax-Free," "Dog Eat Dog" and "Shiny Toys," Mitchell declares herself for drag queens, punks and "simple joys" ("Watching the glorious sun setting on the bay") and against big business, mercenary lawyers, Eighties hedonism and Reaganoid preachers. The latter target turns up in two different songs, which is ironic, since there's as much sanctimony in this record as in the smuggest Falwell sermon. This could be a deliberate move on Mitchell's part: sensing the populist ripple of post-Band Aid activism, and knowing that most of her Woodstock peers are either dead or trying to get there, Joni reenters the great struggle with a plainspoken message to motivate her generation. This explains both "Impossible Dreamer," which may be about John Lennon (there's a direct reference to "Give Peace a Chance") but is certainly about lost idealism, and "Ethiopia," with its parched Japanese flute, choked imagery and painfully enunciated chorus.

But if Joni wants to reach beyond the faithful who'll buy this LP to keep their collections complete, why is Dog Eat Dog such an unpleasant listen? "Good Friends," the Michael McDonald duet that opens the album, features a big, swiveling beat from bassist and coproducer (and husband) Larry Klein that Joni subverts with a clipped melody. Augmenting the modalities she's favored for the last decade with the industrial clank of a synthesizer, courtesy of Thomas Dolby, the music simulates the soullessness of our "culture in decline" without revealing anything new about it. While Joni's venom is an encouraging sign, its clumsy expression is unnerving. (RS 465)

ROB TANNENBAUM

MUSICIANS:
Joni Mitchell - vocals, Fairlight CMI & keyboards
Michael McDonald - vocals
Don Henley, James Taylor, Amy Holland - background vocals
Larry Klein - bass, keyboards, Fairlight CMI & synthesizer programming
Thomas Dolby - keyboards, Fairlight CMI & synthesizer programming
Michael Landau - guitars
Steve Lukather (Toto) - guitars
Vinnie Colaiuta - drums
Wayne Shorter - tenor & soprano saxophones
Michael Fisher - percussion samples
Jerry Hey, Gary Grant - horn

Produced by Joni Mitchell, Larry Klein, Mike Shipley, Thomas Dolby

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
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)


STEPHEN HOLDEN

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

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
Mingus

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
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
Hejira

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

Details
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 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