Court and Spark is a true professional's effort, made by one of the industry's foremost composers - Joni Mitchell. Simply stated, she has achieved a goal that few musicians ever approach. She has put poetry down to music.
This is the second album in which she has worked with a young Los Angeles musician/arranger/composer named Tom Scott. With Scott, her work is less fragile and more out into the open. Mitchell's voice has never been stronger nor so utterly relaxed, and these qualities, when combined with Scott's skillful woodwinds, produces a sound quality that comes off with electrifying presence and punch.
Helping out with the background vocals on a couple of the cuts are three very talented musicians - David Crosby, Graham Nash and Jose Feliciano. The three of them teaming up with Mitchell on the cut "Free Man in Paris" radiates a beautiful control of detail and very fine finish in their excellent harmonies.
The album opens with the title song "Court and Spark," which is much like her previous attempts, smooth and pure. But then the album seems to undergo a metamorphosis bringing out a side of Joni Mitchell that has remained undiscovered in her earlier albums. Building upon the blues-folk foundation which has made her famous, she adds more instrumentation and vocal harmonies to her new effort.
Side one doesn't hold too many surprises for the listener, relying on basically simple melodies and Miss Mitchell's spectacular voice. The last song on the first side, "The Same Situation," gives you a taste of what's in store for the second half with Tom Scott's delicate arrangement of the strings weaving in and out of the track.
Side two begins with "Car on a Hill," which is a bit more expansive using a more complex arrangement of background instruments than on side one. Every artist undergoes change, and when listening to "Down to You" and "Just Like This Train," one begins to see where Joni Mitchell's head is at and is indicative of where it is going.
Yes, Mitchell is changing her style to a more subtle format, perhaps suggesting we do the same. There are a couple of noteable exceptions to this, however, in "Raised on Robbery" and "Twisted." She is experimenting here with a more liberated, less inhibited type of jazz that makes you wonder if Bette Midler is not in for some serious competition in the future.
All in all it is an excellent album showing a transitional period in the life of one of contemporary music's greatest spokesmen. Definitely one of the best albums to sit back and mellow out with.
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