Sometimes you have to be beaten over the head to appreciate a good thing. Five albums long, I had been finding very little magic in the music of Joni Mitchell, appreciating some of her lyrical versatility but hearing disturbance in my ears every time she hit a high note. Very well, I had to learn my lesson the hard way, being totally stunned at the lady's musical gifts. Not only has For The Roses turned my head around regarding Ms. Mitchell, it has prompted me to listen to her earlier albums with an entirely new head.
Joni Mitchell has grown up a great deal since her last release. For The Roses is an album of maturity, expressing a variety of emotions with subtlety and gentleness. Unlike many of her other compositions, these songs deal with themes of the universal, carrying her out of the Hollywood Hills and into the thick of other people's problems. Selfishness, criminality, freedom, all are fit themes for her now bittersweet voice. The sometimes shrieking indulgence of past years has all but vanished, as her voice has trained itself to present its ideas with equal intensity at a much cooler level. Her voice is now captivating, weaving through her lyrics with discipline, stating exactly what she means with a deliberateness that is shocking.
For The Roses experiments instrumentally as well as thematically. A sparing, but appropriate use of horns highlight several tunes, and musicians such as Gary Burton and Steve Stills contribute electric guitar to two of Joni's sharper tunes. For the most part, though, her guitar and expressive piano are accompaniment enough to the sweeps and turns of the vocals. Joni Mitchell's songs have always been filled with raw edges, voice peaking against piano, setting the listener in an uneasy place only she can describe. As her circle of involvement has widened, covering the world, her style remains consistent and fascinating.
Perhaps the most engaging songs on For The Roses are ones that can best be titled "rock tunes." Joni's exploits with various members of the rock community were well documented, but not how each lonely encounter ultimately affected her. Her very special view of each and all affairs are set down boldly, as she claims in Blond in the Bleachers: "You can't hold the hand/Of a Rock 'n Roll man/Very long" with indisputable knowledge. For The Roses sets Joni's life on the table once more, following the hints of Conversation from Ladies of the Canyon, only this time she shares enough to let us help her pick up the pieces.