An album by Joni Mitchell [Reprise R-6293], including the following selections (all written by Joni Mitchell, all copyrighted by Siquomb Music Inc.]: "I Had a King," "Michael from Mountains," "Night in the City," "Marcie," "Nathan La Franeer," "Sisotowbell Lane," "The Dawntreader," "The Pirate of Penance," "Song to a Seagull," "Cactus Tree."
When folk artists of the stature of Judy Collins, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Rush, and Ian and Sylvia all include songs by a new writer in their repertoires, that writer is worth watching.
And when the writer turns out to be a performer as well, and issues an album as good as Joni Mitchell's, this is an event indeed.
The versatile newcomer, who also plays guitar and piano on the album, and did the cover art herself, has a voice that is fragile and haunting, somehow summoning up pictures of a girl-child heroine out of a Shirley Jackson novel.
The purity of her upper register compares favorably with early Joan Baez. Her low voice has a Collins warmth and an occasional Sainte-Marie vibrato. There's a gap in the middle range, which she leaps with a kind of yodel.
But all this is secondary, as is even her feel for melody, to the poetry.
She concerns herself with a basic theme: the irony of a wish for childlike simplicity coupled with the knowledge that it is somehow lost beyond recall.
Thruout there is a seawish and skywish of fluidity and freedom [". . . the freedom/Of all flying things/My dreams with the seagulls fly/Out of reach out of cry"].
Side One of the album is "I Came to the City," and captures the ambiguity in urban life, where night in the city "looks pretty" because of its music and flashing lights, but contrasts with ". . . an island of noise/In a cobblestone sea/And the beaches were concrete/And the stars paid a light bill/And the blossoms hung false/On their store window trees."
Side Two, "Out of the City and Down to the Seaside," leaves the former, with its juxtaposition of "burglar bells and wishing wells . . . symphonies and dirty trees" for what at first appears to be the hoped-for peaceful simple life: Sis[o]towbell lane, with Noah fixing a pump, rocking chairs, and blueberry muffins ["Our tongues turn blue"]: A picture very like Bobbie Gentry's Mississippi delta county.
But the lonely seawish creeps back in "The Dawntreader." And the sea can house pirates as menacing as the city men.
The album ends on a note of futility, freedom turned to empty promiscuity and inability to relate - unless the listener goes back to the beginning, to the city, which still has its tip-hungry taxi drivers ["Nathan La Franeer"] and Marcies whose letters never come, but which also has its Michaels, whose secret is that they are "from mountains" [unlike the sea, firm and secure - tho perhaps another dream image] and its moments of seeing beauty even in ugliness, making one feel things can be worked out after all: "There's oil on the puddles in taffeta patterns/That run down the drain/In colored arrangements/That Michael will change with a stick that he found."
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