The world is quickly turning on to Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Buffy St. Marie, Dave Van Ronk, Tom Rush and other musicians of good taste are recording her songs. WNEW-FM devoted an entire hour to her music the other day. And now, she's finally cut her first album.
Joni wrote Both Sides Now, The Circle Game, Michael From Mountains and at least ten others we know of. And we're desperately trying to find out all about her. Not that she's made any secret of it. She's been on the coffee house circuit, dropping by Boston, Chicago and N.Y. for years, all the time writing like a gloriously talented fiend.
Tom Rush tried to get Judy Collins to record a few of her songs a couple of years back, but she didn't like them then. It's a quiet irony, because Joni always patterned herself after Judy, so much so that she sounds a bit like her now. So when Judy sings her songs, they have a ghostly mist of reincarnation in the rendition.
The last time the music industry was so worked up over a composer was when Leonard Cohen made the scene. They used to tell budding songwriters, "No, that's not quite it. Times have changed. We want stuff in the Leonard Cohen bag."
Guess who they're pointing to now.
Joni has written at least eight modern classics. And for anybody, that's quite a batting average.
Both Sides Now is perhaps exemplary of her talent. The song begins to talk of clouds, how one side is "feather canyons," yet the other brings snow and rain. Next love is surveyed, with both its pains and joys; and finally life itself with the realization, "I've looked at life from both sides now / from win and lose / and still somehow / it's life's illusions I recall / I really don't know life at all."
What an awesome realization to make; what a difficult, internal awareness anticipated this statement. Above all of Joni Mitchell's songs hovers this crystalline grasp of genuine insight.
Joni accompanies all her songs with guitar, mostly 12-string, varying between unusual tunings and chord changes. Each of her songs have that quality of melodic freshness that comes from emotional turbulence, burning a harmonic corner or changing key with an upheaval of tenderness, anguish or ebullience generated by the lyrical course of development.
Her voice is primeval, with the purity of a balladeer isolated from society. Dancing delicately from heady outcries in a natural vibrato, her voice dips and skims over emotional waves, frequently flitting over the apogees of shivering soprano trills, only to rebound to a smokey hollow of exhaustion. Sometimes she sings with the pursed lips of a concerned motherliness, tugging at sheltered memories. Her voice may have its rough edge, but it eminently serves her soul.
She has tried to write her first album as a song cycle. Side one is sub-headed, "I came to the city." Side two is "Out of the city and down to the seaside." Although most of the songs do follow a certain drift in these directions, no real plot is described, and some of the songs such as The Pirate of Penance seem to be outside the character study.
The mournful chorus of I Had A King rings home a key to the sorrow of parturition expressed in the verse: "I can't go back there anymore / You know my keys won't fit the door / You know my thoughts don't fit the man / They never could, they never can."
In Marcie, there is no apparent chorus, but rather the use of an antiphonal phrase in the verse, "red and green," where, Marcie, waiting for her lover "stops inside a candy store / Reds are sweet and greens are sour," then waits, when "Red is autumn, green is summer." Then "red is stop and green's for going," as she takes a cab (and a decision) prompting her final departure, "Red is angry, green is jealous..."
Cactus Tree is a theme song for our times, as Joni describes the girl who loves everyone, only to flee all involvement, caught in a pretense of liberation. "She will love them when she sees them / They will lose her if they follow / And she only means to please them / And her heart is full and hollow / Like a cactus tree / While she's so busy being free..." and here, the last line serving as the chorus, delineates the eternal teeny bopper with uncommon poignancy and concern.
All the selections of the album are good, but these three, along with Michael From Mountains, stand out as some of the best ballads of our time.
All of Joni Mitchell's songs are woman's music. If they have a haunting folk feel to them, it isn't because they are folk songs. They do not follow the folk patterns, and certainly not the strict folk harmonic structures. They are very simply the highly personal poetry of a modern woman who has put her thoughts to music.
Joni Mitchell could be grouped with those singer-songwriters dubbed "Dylan's Children." If so, it should be a tremendous satisfaction for him to see the third generation doing so well.
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