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A Voice of America   Print

by Hans-Hugo Schildberg
Frankfurter Rundschau
May 7, 1983
Original article: PDF

Translated from the original German text by Marion Leffler.

Joni Mitchell at the Alte Oper (Old Opera House)

When Joni Mitchell released her live album "Shadows and Light" (Asylum Records 62030) in 1980, it was a high point of popular music. Not only did the quality of the participating musicians: Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Michael Breker, to mention just a few, make this one of the most beautiful records ever to have appeared on the market until then. More than this, it was the entire composition, paired with outstanding musicality, which even as it was pressed onto tracks still gave away geniality.

Endowed by nature with a voice reaching over four octaves, grown up in the formative years of rock'n' roll and having moved at the right time from her native Canada to neighboring USA, she there found the seemingly still unbroken power of the "flower children" shattering the all-American way of life, the sarcastically poetic voices of Dylan and Ginsburg , and not least the flourishing time of pop music. Woodstock marked - even though in hindsight it might appear differently - for at least the growing numbers of like-minded, skeptical as well as hopeful people a milestone on the way to a better life. The utopia of remembering and acting on the first European immigrants' virtues and longings, of making America a country of freedom and peace, all too soon had to take a backseat to actual circumstances and politically forced issues, though. The short euphoria of unity, freedom and love gave way to a rainy hangover of power politics and military force to secure peace.

Despite all nostalgia, Joni Mitchell is not the angel of peace, singing hymns in a soft voice in praise of old times. (Although she could easily convince you, with her blond hair and loosely cut white dress). On the contrary, her performance at the Alte Oper is a long way from letting past feelings surface. Absolutely here and now, her refined and complicated sound cascades enter the ears of her audience sometimes as softly filigree melodies, sometimes as strong rock rhythms. Her voice, whether strongly physical or sung softly from the throat, follows the complicated patterns of her lyrics with dreamy confidence. She has in her voice everything one could wish for: an extremely wide range, a good deal of what is commonly referred to as "soul", the softness necessary to sing ballads and at the same time a stimulating rock voice. In addition to this, her performance is perfectly natural, with no trace of star behavior.

The band around Joni Mitchell (g., voice): Michael Landau (g), Larry Klein (b-g), Vinnie Calaluta (dr) and Russel Ferrante (keyboards) is her equal partner and nearly make you forget the star crew from "Shadows and Light". (Although Landau does not accompany as lightly hovering as Metheny, Klein does not set his commenting bass figures as light-footedly as Pastorius).

Joni Mitchell's real strength lies in her ability to match lyrics and music. She is able to undo the advantage ( rock) music has over poetry, to put them side by side as equals: "God must be a boogie man", "Free man in Paris", "In France they kiss on main street", "Both sides now" are examples of the possible emancipation of words and music in a synthesis containing all we have ever dreamed and experienced, allowing for hope for a change of crusted circumstances. A voice of America to be captured by.

*Note from Marion: I am painfuly aware that some of the phrasing must sound odd to native English speakers. I tried to keep as closely to the original texts as possible, avoiding alterations of phrasing since I did not want to change meaning. Obviously the articles were written at a time when popular culture would not get a mention in this newspaper unless written in an academic style. Unfortunately, some journalists got carried away and became pretentious, in my opinion.

 

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