Joni – Miscellaneous Joni released a greatest hits album simply called HITS in 1996. A great collection – mostly early years – with only one new song ‘Urge For Going’ which she had recorded but left off Blue back in 1971. Better, in my opinion was the companion album Misses, released the same day, which was a collection of her personal favourite songs from her whole career. This is a wonderful record, mostly later songs which may have been missed or undervalued. It has a consistency which ‘Hits’ lacks, a mood maintained throughout. I love it, a very nice listen on a rainy day. The Seeding Of Summer Lawns is a bootleg of demos which Joni made for several middle period albums. This was before the jazz affectations and arrangements were added. There is a simplicity and honesty about the songs in this ‘raw’ and yet very accomplished state, and a cohesion to the feel of them. I especially like ‘Dreamland’ and ‘Shades Of Scarlet Conquering’. Joni Mitchell Remixed – is another bootleg, this time faster beats and rhythms are added to a few of her songs – too many versions of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ but overall a nice addition to the collection. I also have a triple album of live concerts under the Transmission Impossible label. These must have been originally broadcast on radio and have now gone past copyright. Pretty cool really – disc 1 is from ’66 to ’70. (not really my favourite period) a few unrecorded songs but none of which grabbed me as up to her later standard. Better was disc 2, an early 80s concert to promote Wild Things, I think. Anyway a very nice concert; Joni had by now adopted a more ‘commercial’ sound, more traditional guitar and piano led songs rather than the jazzy 2 official live records – and better for it too. I especially like ‘Coyote’ and ‘Don’t interrupt The Sorrow’ – but actually it is all good. Disc 3 is I think from the early 90’s and was promoting ‘Turbulent Indigo’. Joni was particularly talkative on this concert giving some back ground to songs like ‘Cherokee Louise’. I also like ‘Night Ride Home’ and ‘Yvette in English’; somehow, she manages to sound jazz-inflected with just her guitar. She had certainly come a long way from her early high-pitched folky songs. Last but not least is actually a Herbie Hancock jazz album – River, The Joni Letters (2007). Ten songs, eight of which were written by Joni. She sings on ‘The Tea Leaf Prophecy’ and several guest singers including Leonard Cohen on ‘The Jungle Line’ and Tina Turner on ‘Edith and The Kingpin’. Herbie is a renowned jazz artist and has played on several of Joni’s later albums. This is a very jazz oriented record, interpretations of some of Joni’s songs. But really quite enjoyable and a different take on one of my very favourite artists. Joni has retired form making music several years ago, and suffered a brain aneurism a few years ago, but seems to be recovering quite well and still paints. In fact, she has often said that really she was a painter first and foremost; indeed in later years she treated her songs like painting in sound. An incredible artist in all senses of the word who changed the musical landscape by allowing women to be taken seriously and opening up her music to include feelings in a sometimes quite brutal way. I am sad to be saying goodbye to her (just for a while).
Joni Mitchell – The Later Years
Joni changed direction, quite suddenly in my opinion, in the Eighties. She also changed record company and boyfriend – Larry Klein (another bass player) also became her producer. And all to the detriment of her great talent. Not that the records were poor – by anyone else’s standards they were fine – but this was Joni of Blue and Court and Spark. Anyway, I continued buying her records, hoping for a return to her earlier style – but the curse of the Eighties affected her, like it did so many other. Her first ‘new’ album was Wild Things Run Free (1982) and it was a great disappointment. Joni seemed to be trying too hard to be relevant and modern and ‘rock and roll’, even including a (not too bad) version of the old standard ‘You’re So Square’ Best are opener ‘Chinese Café’ and ‘Underneath the Streetlamp’ – but really even these would be the poorest on er earlier records. Better was Dog Eat Dog (1985) – where she enlisted Thomas Dolby (see D) to add new sounds and dubbing to her voice. The results are a bit mixed to be hones, but this is also by far Joni’s most political album, and I like it for that as much as the sound which almost grates at times. Best songs are ‘Fiction’, ‘Impossible Dreamer’ and ‘best of all ‘The Three Great Stimulants’ (one of the few that would deserve to be on a Greatest Hits album). Chalk Marks In A Rainstorm (1988) was another disappointment; a mediocre attempt spoiled by her attempts at duets with Peter Gabriel and Willy Nelson among others. It just didn’t work for me. The album is only redeemed by a couple of tracks where her voice predominates and something like her signature sound emerges – ‘Cool Water’ and ‘The Beat Of Black Wings’. Overall, the sound is too smooth, too laidback, almost too middle of the road for me. Oh Well. I was beginning to lose faith in my Joni but gave her one last try. Night Ride Home came out in 1991, a darker sounding record – after almost a decade of attempting to sound cool Joni made a fairly simple album led mostly by her guitar and voice – the jazzy arrangements subtle and down in the mix allowing Joni herself to return. But of course, it was the songs which were better too; you could hear and remember the words and you felt they meant something. At last, a return to normality. Best are ‘Cherokee Louise’, ‘Come In From The Cold’ and the title track. 3 years later and the quality was there again in Turbulent Indigo – an album with a cover painting of Joni with a bandaged ear based on a self-portrait by Van Gogh. Almost every song is great and approaching her mid 70’s brilliance. The voice is darker and deeper and her guitar playing dominates as she angrily condemns the current obsession with Sex in Capitalism in ‘Sex Kills’. She sings of the terrible injustices of the Catholic Church in possibly the best song on the album ‘The Magdalene Laundries’ and ‘Borderline’ evinces both her and Van Gogh’s borderline mental issues, especially around their creativity. I also like ‘Yvette in English’ – a song she wrote with her old lover from the 60’s, David Crosby (see C). The final song ‘The Sire Of Sorrow’ is subtitled Jobs Sad Song and is hauntingly beautiful and sad. In fact, sadness permeates the record’ a world weariness, a mature looking at the world which I find I share too. 1998 saw the release of Taming The Tiger, which for a while seemed to be her last album of original songs (wrong, as it turned out) not quite as good as its two predecessors but quite a good record all the same. The songs though seem a bit rambling and without much focus. Best are ‘Love Puts On A new Face’ and ‘The Crazy Cries Of Love’. Not that Joni was finished – but she decided to record an album of love songs, most by older writers (except her own ‘A Case Of You’ and the title track). Sung with a jazz-inflected orchestra, Both Sides Now (2000) is a sumptuous journey through the stages of a love affair from first sight, infatuation to disillusionment. I really like it and Joni does the older songs really well. Best are ’Come Love’ and ‘Stormy Weather. She followed this with a double retrospective Travelogue– re-recording many of her songs with the same jazzy orchestral arrangements. Although a pleasant album I tend to prefer the original recordings, which may simply be familiarity – though ‘Man Is The Sire Of Constant Sorrow’ is spectacularly good. The last album by Joni was ‘Shine’ (2007). And so far, I haven’t really taken to it. It is sparse and piano-led, but it is the songs I cannot really relate to – don’t know why, but her old albums are like old friends and this just doesn’t seem to fit. Her voice sounds tired and there is a lack of enthusiasm there. But there you go…..
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.