Bob Dylan's return has caused a lot of spark and speculation about where music and the youth culture are going in the 1970s.
In all the commotion, the return of a woman who has created a quiet revolution of her own has been pushed unjustly to the side. Joni Mitchell, the female folk-poet laureate has released a new album, "Court and Spark," and has recently gone on tour after a rejuvenation period in her canyon home.
Just a glance at the cover of her latest album lets you know what's inside. A sketch of a man and woman in sweeping embrace is overshadowed by an ominous, dark cloud. "Again and again the same situation," sings Joni in quiet resignation, and you know the woman of heart and mind is still unsuccessful in love.
The lady who once played coffee houses with Neil Young is no longer wingin' it with piano and guitar. She's been influenced by Tommy Scott, a fine saxophonist and reedman, whose L.A. Express has moved her bit-by-bit into jazz and brass and string orchestration.
But the genius of Joni is still very much present. Her ability to express vulnerability, cultivated after too many sugars gone sour, aches through the gloss of the more polished musical style.
On "Help Me," one of the most striking cuts on her new album, a black sound splashes over the tune, with chicken-scratch guitars, bluesy vocal rifts, and three-tiered harmonies that make you think of (sweet) chocolate cherubs.
The song contains a new vocal style only hinted at in her last album, "For the Roses," but prominent in almost every cut on "Court and Spark." Her voice slides up to ecstatic high notes, only to tumble back down with the sad realization that the spark of romance has burned out: "We love our lovin', but not like we love our freedom."
A quite incongruous cast has been assembled for the album. Standard supporters like Graham Nash and David Crosby appear on the "Free Man in Paris" cut, along with Robbie Robertson of The Band ("Raised on Robbery"), Jose Feliciano ("Free Man in Paris"), and Cheech and Chong supplying crazy voices on "Twisted."
Joni has definitely undergone a metamorphosis-play "Raised on Robbery" that frenetic jelly-roll rock, and then turn back the time dial to "Both Sides Now" or "My Old Man." Quite a change. I'll never reconcile the stained bebop style of "Twisted," (also recorded by the Divine Miss M), with the feminine fluidity of which Joni is capable. Nor will "Raised on Robbery" every console me like "For Free" or "Circle Game."
But the rest of the eleven cuts on the album, expressing every kind of emotion from wanting to get out of the business ("Free Man in Paris"), feeling vulnerability and uneasiness at a posh New York party ("People's Parties"), to searching for love in a lonely world with "heaven full of astronauts / and the Lord on death row," and "The Same Situation," reaches us with sincerity and deep-felt emotion.
Having just turned 30 last November, Joni has lost some of her girlish guile and idealism. In "Down to You," which begins with piano styles subtly reminiscent of her former beau, Graham Nash, and James Taylor, she exposes a more worldly philosophy:
"Everything comes and goes
Marked by lovers and styles of clothes.
Things that you held high
And told yourself were true
Lost and changing as the days come down to you."
Her style and philosophy may have changed, swept along with the tide of new dandies and dresses. But one thing has remained intact over the years. Joni's unmatchable knack of conveying convincing emotions will continue to "court and spark" her listen for years to come.
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