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The Quiet of Knowing Print-ready version

by Mark Scott
March 3, 2018

The Quiet of Knowing

Christina Friis

Featuring: Dave Blackburn – guitar
Barnaby Finch – keyboards
Arranged, produced and engineered by Dave Blackburn at Beat 'n Track Recording, Fallbrook, CA

The title of this exquisitely executed collection of songs comes from a song that is probably unknown to most people who are not avid fans of the great singer-songwriter, Joni Mitchell. 'Come To The Sunshine' is a song that speaks of illumination and clarity. The resulting combination of these two elements is 'the quiet of knowing' that comes from a depth of understanding so deep that spoken communication becomes superfluous.

Christina Friis's lovely singing voice has a fine clarity and expressiveness that fully illuminates the collection of largely unknown Joni Mitchell songs that make up this CD. Her impeccable phrasing and interpretive skills bring out the beauty of Mitchell's melodies and tease out the multiple layers of meaning in her lyrics.

Except for one, the songs that make up 'The Quiet of Knowing' were written between 1964 and 1967 when Joni Mitchell was in her early twenties. Although some of the lyrics have a naïve, sometimes fanciful quality about them that reflects both Mitchell's age when she wrote them and also the times in which the words were written, others have a gravitas that seems to come from the life experience of a more mature voice. The melodies already have the distinctive quality that set Joni's music several notches above the popular songs of the day, sometimes stepping in and out of Mitchell's signature melancholy in a single song.

Christina Friis's voice is not a knock off of Mitchell's but it does have a quality that fits very neatly into these songs. She takes full advantage of the emotional shadings that the music evokes and brings out the fullest depth that the lyrics contain. Christina Friis performs the rare trick of leaving the mark of her own unique interpretations on Joni Mitchell's songs while remaining true to Mitchell's spirit and vision.

'Come To The Sunshine' is the opening track on the CD and it begins with the nimble picking of Dave Blackburn on acoustic guitar. Pianist Barnaby Finch adds a few accents before Christina's voice comes in, floating through the lyrics 'I never saw a sky so free, never so blue'. Her bright delivery matches the song's optimistic lyrics and soars into her clear, upper soprano register through a lovely wordless interlude after the second verse and chorus. Her voice beautifully weaves itself in with the guitar and piano before repeating the last part of the second verse 'So I will tell you with my eyes, say it with a kiss, silence that asks and looks so wise, and needs no answer on a day like this'. She finishes up the chorus, inviting the listener to 'Come to the sunshine' and 'share in the quiet of knowing' where 'all the answers are so clearly showing'. Beautiful words with their message beautifully expressed by a gifted singer.

'Day After Day', the song that immediately follows 'Come To The Sunshine' illustrates the somber side of the music on this recording. Joni Mitchell once said in an interview that 'Day After Day' was written in August of 1964 during a train journey from Calgary in the Canadian province of Alberta to Toronto, Ontario. She was an art student in Calgary at this time and was on her way to attend the Mariposa Folk Festival scheduled to take place near Toronto. If Mitchell's memory is accurate, she was unmarried when she made this trip and about three months pregnant with the child she would later give up for adoption. The lyrics to 'Day After Day' certainly fit with the situation she found herself in and Christina Friis communicates the tangle of fear, anxiety and despair that a young woman would have felt in 1964 who was facing an uncertain and potentially frightening future. Christina's delivery ranges from melancholy weariness as she sings 'Day after day, miles and miles of railroad tracks, night after night, hummin' of the wheels' to glimmers of hope as she sings 'Their hummin' seems to say, he'll follow you some day'. But the hope does not sustain itself. Christina takes on that weary tone again as she sings 'Night after night, searching for my soul', giving a haunting bend to the last note of that phrase that reaches down into the dark depths of that word 'soul'. Despair creeps into the hope as she prays her 'darling comes before too late'. Fear almost overcomes her as Christina sings 'Wish I could turn around and run back home again'. Christina Friis masterfully navigates these vacillating emotions with a pathos that brings out all of the poignancy of this heart wrenching song. The original guitar based accompaniment for 'Day After Day' is replaced here by Barnaby Finch's understated but effective piano, striking notes that shift from minor to major chords and notes, perfectly matching the shifting emotions of the song.

Except for the the tracks 'Day After Day' and 'Hunter', the songs on 'The Quiet of Knowing' were never recorded by Joni Mitchell. An acetate recording of 'Day After Day, most likely cut as a demo, was made in 1966. But that recording has never been officially released and the song was never included on any of Joni Mitchell's albums.

'Hunter' was originally selected for inclusion on Mitchell's most lauded album, 1971's 'Blue' and there are some rare test pressings of 'Blue' that include it. But the song was cut before the final version of 'Blue' was released. 'Hunter', copyrighted in 1969, is an example of Joni Mitchell's writing that shows her fully developed ability to tell a tightly constructed story about finding a drifter outside in the rain to whom she offers shelter in her tool shed. The song is slowed down from the tempo Mitchell used in the performances of the song that have surfaced on YouTube. Dave Blackburn's easy, relaxed strumming combined with Christina's opening vocalization give the song a bluesy feel that works very well. Christina shows a fine ability for storytelling as she sings and conveys the thought process that first identifies the singer as 'the good Samaritan' and later, as a feeling of guilt at not allowing the stranger inside her home creeps in, tags her with another Biblical reference as 'the keeper of the inn'. Barnaby Finch adds his own blue notes on electric piano to further color the musical mix of this finely performed track.

Christina perfectly captures the dreamy mix of emotions that come from being 'Alone alone on such a pretty night, with enchantment on your side' in 'Carnival In Kenora'. Finally a 'stranger takes my hand and we smile, and the magic understands'. She lets him take her 'for a ride on a giant Ferris wheel' where 'One kiss can make you feel like a spinning Ferris wheel'. A year later Joni would write about 'Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels' as a reference to the sensations of romantic love in her most famous song 'Both Sides Now' and much later, it appears again in the song 'Harlem in Havana' 'at the far end of the midway' where she places 'the double 'Ferris Wheel'.

Other songs show different aspects of the artistic expressions of the young Joni Mitchell as channeled through the magical voice of Christina Friis. Christina brings out the exertion expended in the struggle to end a relationship gone wrong while keeping up a strong facade in her delivery of 'I Won't Cry'. 'Blue on Blue' is a portrait of a lover who escapes into his own dream world where the singer is denied access. Barnaby Finch plays a particularly lovely piano interlude in this song and Christina takes her vocal on a beautiful flight into the blue stratosphere at the end. The lyrics of 'Favorite Color' walk a fine line between cloying sentimentality and a piece that has thoughtful underlying themes. Christina and her musical companions, Blackburn and Finch, find just the right path to tell the story of a blind child who poses two questions, neither of which has one specific answer: 'What color is a tree?' and 'What color is a man?' After Christina explains that trees change color with the passing of the seasons and that man comes in many different colors, the child gives her all of her crayons and says that 'by mixing all of these' comes her favorite color, love. Christina's sincere and honest delivery steers the song away from the sentimental revealing the underlying message about how innocence can sometimes resolve the complexities of life in ways that a more sophisticated point of view cannot.

The song 'Eastern Rain' might be recognized by fans of the 1960s-1970s folk-rock genre since it was recorded by the British folk rock band, Fairport Convention on their 1969 album 'What We Did On Our Holidays'. The song was copyrighted in 1967 around the time when Joni Mitchell was beginning to be recognized as a songwriter of significance. It is given an especially fine treatment on 'The Quiet of Knowing'. Dave Blackburn and Barnaby Finch set up a steady rhythm with their respective instruments. Christina gives a special significance to the line 'The dawn will send me on a chase to nowhere, Why cry as if I were the first to go there' and the ache is audible in her voice as she sings 'But that eastern rain drones in my brain, and I'm so all alone, so all alone'. Blackburn plays Spanish sounding figures on his guitar during the song's ride out. Christina riffs off of his playing with Barnaby's playing keeping up the steadiness of the rhythm, taking the music beautifully out into some far off chase to nowhere.

'Winter Lady' is a lovely duet between Christina's touching vocal and Barnaby Finch's beautifully crafted piano notes about the title character whose lover 'treats her badly' and who needs to be loved by someone who won't hurt her. The song is followed by 'The Way It Is' which is a short essay in song about how differing viewpoints can cause dissent between people. Christina's straightforward reading of the song drives home the concluding lines 'That's the way it is, you know, you just see what you want to see, who am I to tell you how to think, or tell you who to be'.

The song that concludes 'The Quiet of Knowing' is somewhat of an anomaly as the melody seems to be largely lifted from Leonard Cohen's song 'Suzanne'. Lyrically the song could almost be written from the point of view of the title character of Cohen's song as well. Compare 'And you think you maybe love him' and 'Saying I am but a mirror, for reflection of your fables' from 'The Wizard of Is' to 'And you think maybe you'll trust her' and 'While Suzanne holds the mirror' from Cohen's 'Suzanne'. It is an oddity to find a Joni Mitchell song that does not sound totally original. Regardless of the song's provenance, it is given a sincere, almost reverent treatment here, with Christina singing over Dave Blackburn's lovely guitar lines that echo somewhat the Judy Collins version of the song but diverge into their own beautiful arpeggios and variations. Once again, Christina's earnest vocal overcomes some of the more fanciful aspects of the lyrics.

Christina Friis's fine instrument is set off to perfection by the finely executed guitar playing of Dave Blackburn and Barnaby Finch's equally impressive facility on keyboards. The combination of these three artists seems to be ideally suited to putting a lustrous finish on these songs that illustrate how Joni Mitchell's uncanny ability to conjoin melodies and lyrics first began to develop. Most of the earliest songs sketch out images and emotions that suggest the stories behind them. By the time 'Hunter' was written, Joni Mitchell had mastered the art of storytelling. She would go on to more complex expressions of her thoughts and increasingly sophisticated use of language in relating her musical stories. It is a gift to have these early songs, most of which can only be found in YouTube videos of live performances, preserved in this polished but sincere and deeply felt format. It is a testament to Dave Blackburn's skill as an arranger, producer and recording engineer that this CD is such a clear, pristine recording. Dave is no stranger to this work as he has supervised live recordings of his own Joni Mitchell tribute band 'Mutts of the Planet' which have the same clear, clean sound that this studio recording displays. The 'Mutts', featuring Dave's wife Robin Adler on vocals, change personnel depending on what period or specific work of Mitchell's they are presenting and Barnaby Finch has been a contributor on more than one of their projects, adding his magical playing that beautifully enhances any music that includes it.

But Christina Friis is the vessel, here, through which the words and melodies of these lovely songs flow. She is nothing but perfection all the way through giving vivid interpretations of these songs, preserving a piece of the creative history of one of our most important songwriters while also breathing new life into this collection of songs.

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Added to Library on March 3, 2018. (6785)


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