Joni Mitchell's "Court & Spark" fits logically in the evolutionary pattern of her career. Hopefully, though, she'll soon evolve into something more extraordinary.
One progression in Ms. Mitchell's career has been the steady inclusion of more and more backup. Her first and second works, "Songs To A Seagull" and "Clouds," were simple in terms of extra instrumentation. The only added touches (Stills' guitar, Crosby's voice, her own chorus ... ) were used slightly. "Ladies of the Canyon" added more piano, some woodwinds, and kept Crosby, Stills, and Nash as resident choirboys. "Blue" utilized a full band on some tracks and a unique dulcimer here and there. "For the Roses" was heavily packed--few songs (if any) were simple guitar-voice numbers. Now "Court & Spark" uses strings, the L. A. Express (supermarket-muzak) jazz band, Robbie Robertson, Cheech & Chong, and Jose Feliciano.
FIRST WAS BEST
Her first album was her best. It showcased the songs that passed e test of playing before club audiences while she was scuttling for a living. After she rose to stardom, she coasted downhill til her most boring waste, "Ladies." With "Blue" she picked up some funk to charge her style (thankfully), put out "Roses" with good arrangements and performances but poor materials and finally hit stride with this one.
Side one suffers from her usual shortage of spice. The title song, like the entrees on "Sgt. Pepper's" or "Magical Mystery " serves a thematic opener for the rest of her album. But it's too solemn. Her preoccupation is with the measurement of the painful distances from the perfect point of love.
Two songs pick up the pace of the album. The bouncy rhythms and hooker's melodies of "Help Me" and "Free Man In Paris" move as if trying to shake off some of the tenacious necessities of life. Their spunkiness makes them the only good songs on side one. "People's Parties," a typically arranged affair, doesn't concern me. Who cares about record executives and their deadhead New York snob-bashes? It connects with "The Same Situation," nothing too outstanding either and the last song on a cheatingly short side of five.
Side two opens as "Car On The Hill" fetches your mind back to the title song with its reference to "so much spark..." and "sweetness in the dark... " It's the third good song but dully trailed by a drab clinker, "Down To You." The strings, clavinet and classical arrangement here are just too stuffy for Joni's good.
"Raised on Robbery" is one drinker's invite to another. It's got a great beginning but sounds too much like Joni Mitchell executing rock for authenticity's sake.
"Trouble Child" is too long and too wordy to appreciate its own jazzy arrangement which folds into "Twisted," the fifth good shot. The song sounds great if only because of its humor ("I heard little children were supposed to sleep tight, that's why I got into the vodka one night..."), or its winding arrangement or simply because it was written by someone else (Ross & Grey, 1965).
That's five good songs out of eleven. Not as bad as it sounds. The bright moments mark the death of one somber stage of her career and the beginning of something better. She could be on her way to the attainment of real quality.
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