INDIGO EVENING: She was raised in Canada and settled in Southern California, yet Joni Mitchell always has brought a European air to her songs, with their images of trains, cafes, and walking the streets of Paris unfettered and alive.
Although Mitchell has not toured in many years, a sign of the enduring affection that the singer still enjoys abroad came during a press showcase at a townhouse in London. Organized by WEA Records U.K. and Warner Music Europe, the event drew media from across the Continent. Promoting "Turbulent Indigo," the album that marks her return to Reprise Records after 23 years, Mitchell played a vivid solo set for a rapt audience.
"I don't know how to address you; you're not all Brits," she quipped at one point, running through a major-market roll call. "Spain? Italy? France? Do we have France?"
With her distinctive guitar tunings and a voice that has aged not at all, Mitchell played not only moving and impressionistic songs from the new album, such as "Sex Kills," "Sunny Sunday," and "The Magdalene Laundries," but also earlier repertoire such as "Refuge Of The Roads" and "Night Ride Home." With the introduction of the as-yet-unreleased songs "Love's Cries" and "(Happiness Is The Best) Facelift," Mitchell suggested that her songwriting muse has been busy indeed. And with every smile and wry aside, the singer melted her reputation for musical melancholia.
She asked for a moment of quiet for longtime friend David Crosby (who that day was undergoing a liver transplant operation). Then Mitchell performed "Yvette In English," a song co-written with Crosby for her new album. In the lyric, an ingenue in a French cafe extends an invitation. It could speak for the delight Joni Mitchell offered on this evening:
"With her lips wrapped around a cigarette/Yvette in English saying/'Please have this/Little bit of instant bliss.'"
THE YEAR was 1970, and it would mark Elton John's debut on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Your Song." However, that year John also was still working as a session musician who, among other jobs back home in Britain, recorded covers of hits for bargain-priced compilation albums. RPM Records in the U.K. has unearthed and licensed 20 of those hit covers from 1969 and 1970, featuring John on piano and vocals, for "Reg Dwight's Piano Goes Pop." Where else could you hear the piano player performing the likes of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky" or Mungo Jerry's "In The Summertime?" And yet, as Tim Joseph writes in his liner notes, "A quick listen will confirm that at no time did Elton John forget who he was; his own individual style is stamped on every track."
Roger Dopson, co-director of RPM, acknowledges that "Piano Goes Pop" also serves as a tribute to the odd genre of the cover hit compilation, which flourished in Britain in the early '70s. "It is a very English thing, isn't it?" he says. John, for his part, has reacted favorably to the RPM disc. With the approval of the singer and his manager, John Reid, subsequent pressings of the album will be more clearly identified as Elton's work, Dobson says. RPM expects that "Reg Dwight's Piano Goes Pop" will be available as an import in the U.S. in the new year.
THE NATIVE KIWI bird of New Zealand is seldom known to leave the ground, but the same can't be said for the country's noteworthy homegrown artists. Billboard correspondent Graham Reid notes that this fall (in the Northern Hemisphere) has brought international tours by Maoiri act Moana & the Moahunters, who went to New Orleans to open for the Neville Brothers; David Kilgour, who toured U.S. clubs opening for Pavement and went on to London and Paris; the Headless Chickens, who traversed the U.K. and Europe; and the Mutton Birds, whose jaunt took them through Canada, Germany, and the U.K.
BORDER CROSSINGS: Having cracked The Billboard 200 with their current Giant Records album, "Strategem," Big Head Todd & the Monsters played their first European tour during November, with dates in the U.K., Holland, and Germany . . . Preceding Mary Black's major-label arrival in the U.S. next year on Curb/Atlantic Records, the Irish star's breakthrough album, "By The Time It Gets Dark," is being released in America on Gifthorse Records . . . Epitaph Records act Offspring, licensed through Shock Records in Australia, has gone gold Down Under with sales of 35,000 of its album "Smash." . . . Sony Nashville artist Joy Lynn White has made her U.K. debut with the single "Wild Love," which, notably, has been remixed for U.K. release as a dance track for club and radio promotion.
Home & Abroad is a biweekly column spotlighting the activity of the international music business and artists outside their native markets. Information may be sent to Thom Duffy, 23 Ridgmount Street, London, WC1E-7AH or faxed to 071-323-2314.
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