Joni Mitchell -the middle years. – Joni took her time over her sixth album, maybe feeling slightly rushed in the recent past; it was absolutely normal to write, record and tour a new album every year – but by the mid-Seventies artists were beginning to demand more time to work on their albums. She recruited Henry Lewy as her engineer, and in reality, co-producer and a host of session musicians including Tom Scott – a jazz instrumentalist. And the whole album is the epitome of smooth L.A. jazzy rock. Leaving behind much of her guitar and piano led arrangements for a subtler softer sound the album has a feeling of just rolling from superb song to wonderful song, each complimenting each other – and almost the same rhythm and pace almost to the end. Hard to pick a favourite but the singles ‘Raised On Robbery’ and ‘Help Me’ are simply sublime – so too is ‘Free man In Paris’, the title track and ‘Just like This Train’. No more, as far we can tell honest heartbroken songs or pining for lovers – but the songs, though sometimes slightly mysterious lyrics have sumptuous melodies that carry them through. This was three almost masterpieces in a row. Joni took the album out on tour but this time rather than performing solo she took Tom Scott’s band L.A. Express with her. The resulting album was mostly earlier songs rearranged in a more jazzy and far too fast style – Miles of Aisles 1974 was another success, possibly introducing many of her earlier songs to a new post Court and Spark audience. Not my favourite album really, as I almost prefer the original versions – for me the songs are all speeded up and lose their subtlety and charm. Two new songs ‘Jericho’, which she would later record again in the studio and ‘Love Or Money’ – neither of which at the time really grabbed me. However, the album sold well – but I couldn’t wait for the next studio album which came out in late 1975, almost 22 months after Court and Spark. The Hissing of Summer Lawns – refers to the sprinklers in suburban gardens in L.A. I remember when this album first came out – and I loved it. It is more experimental; ‘The Jungle Line’ combines Burundi drumming and mixes images of Rousseau and Joni’s haunting voice – and it works. There is an almost acapella ending ‘Shadows and Light’ which also works well. There is a quite radio-friendly single ‘In France They Kiss On Main Street’; and some of my favourite songs – ‘Shades of Scarlett Conquering’ (a study of Scarlett O’Hara and romance’, and ‘Don’t Interrupt The Sorrow’. In my mind she barely put a foot wrong – but the critics were sharpening their knives – well, punk was just rearing its ugly head and all these ‘oldies’ were fair game. I suppose everyone just wanted another Bule or Court and Spark, but that was never Joni’s way; just like Dylan and Neil Young and Bowie she was always searching and following her muse wherever it would lead her. She spent much of late ’75 and ’76 travelling across America and wrote songs reflecting this for her next album Hejira 1976. Joni has always been influenced by her lovers and bass players, who were often the same. She started an affair with jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius and he influenced Hejira to a great extent, taking her to some dark shades and sumptuous rippling bass lines. The songs are often rambling with no real choruses and yet they cast a spell over the whole proceedings. Best are ‘Coyote’ and ‘Amelia’, but I also love ‘Refuge Of The Roads’ and ‘Song For Sharon’. Joni was now in the fortunate place where only few artists exist; being completely free to record whatever she wanted regardless of the demands of the record company. And she pushed this envelope to almost breaking point in the late Seventies, leaving behind quite a few fans on the way – but she always regarded herself as a painter and followed her muse wherever it took her. The following year she indulged herself with a double album which many critics thought could have been condensed into a single record losing in particular ‘The Tenth World’, a sort of drum-based chant. Maybe….maybe not. For a long time Joni refused to let this be available on CD so maybe she shared some of their views. However, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter is possibly my favourite of her mid-term albums. Anyway – impossible to choose a best track…from the opening base runs on the intro to ‘Cotton Avenue’ to the Jazzy reflections and drawn out vocals on ‘The Silky Veils Of Ardour’ Joni doesn’t put a foot wrong (except for Tenth World – undoubtedly a misunderstood track). I especially like the mostly instrumental ‘Paprika Plains’ and the wonderful title track, not forgetting ‘Dreamland’ (Black babies covered in baking flour, the cooks got a Carnival song)….Ah, I could listen to this album all day long and never tire of it. Her last album down the jazz-infused road is Mingus (1979) – Most fans even find this a hard album to love, she has gone right off the Richter scale with her homage to and playing with Charlie Mingus. A strange mixture of rapping (that is talking) and very weird lyrics, none of which make much sense. But repeated playing has made me like some of it – ‘God Must Be A Boogie Man’ recorded after his death has a naïve charm, and ‘The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines’ is passable – otherwise it is an experimental and deeply divisive album. Joni never repeated the experiment as fans and critics alike mauled it. We finish this middle section with another live album Shadows and Light (1980). Again, a very jazzy effort but more listenable than her previous one. No new songs but quite a pleasant though hardly essential addition to the collection. She does do a short version of the old rock’n’roll standard ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’ which gave some clue to her next direction. Having gone as far as she could with Jazz she moved back to the centre.