Hejira: Joni Mitchell
Asylum 7E-1087, stereo, $6.98
Last year's Hissing of Summer Lawns was not an easy pill to swallow. A total departure from the phenomenally successful Court and Spark, it was a daring, highly idiosyncratic and lavish album that some people did not like at all.
Hejira (which refers first to Mohammed's flight from Mecca and generically to the pilgrim's flight from the holy place) is much sparser. The sound, no less personal, is cut lean and to the bone, and is very challenging. Jaco Pastorius is brilliant every time his bass playing appears. Larry Carlton's guitar leads and Victor Feldman's vibes perform some uncanny tricks. Surprisingly, Joni Mitchell's piano work, which had been strongly emphasized since the Blue album, is completely gone. She contents herself with her special guitar rhythms which unite the album sonically, with the effect of a smooth motor in a new car.
This album is completely a road album. It is spent in cars looking up at jets in the sky or strung out on another man. Coyote opens with an encounter on the road near Joni's Canadian hometown. Amelia following it is triggered by six jets over the desert in "the hexagram of the heavens," with visions of Icarus doomed to fall, she compares the fallen aviatrix and her own state - "I crashed into his arms." The song is another view of Both Sides Now fully a decade along, her fear of flying all too alive. Furry Sings the Blues takes place at Furry Lewis' place on crumbling old Beale Street in Memphis. The obsolescence of the wonderful old Blues singer is tender and sad. Hejira is at the beginning of her second 30 years. It looks directly at the aimless, endless roading and fully acknowledges the alternative - "(I'm) a defector from the pretty wars/until love sucks me back that way."
The Song for Sharon faces the same dilemma through the image of a childhood friend who has her family and farm and still keeps her music for them held against her own checkered romantic history, the bitterness like a lozenge that won't dissolve. The Blue Motel Room is in Savannah, and the encounter there leads inevitably to the Refuge of the Roads. The uncertainty and the ever-altering scenery are all Mitchell can count on, this "rolling taking refuge in the roads." Hejira is another difficult pill to swallow, as open as it is.
The cover gives some clues. It is in striking black & white, black for asphalt, white for freedom, and the birdlady poses are stunning.
Hejira is a challenge to absorb. It is demanding of you, and it's not easy to shake off or forget. If it takes a little getting used to, it is easily worth the effort.
Sound A- Performance: A-
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