Wednesday, March 20, 2013


So Joni Mitchell found the sweet spot of artistic value and popular acclaim with Ladies of the Canyon and would remain there until she got too far ahead of the critics at Rolling Stone with "The Hissing of Summer Lawns."

She had reached the apotheosis of critical acclaim with Blue, which the NYTimes chose as one of the musical mileposts of the 20th century:
A restless woman travels, falls in love and longs for what she left behind as she moves on; in the background 1960's ideals crumble. Joni Mitchell turned unsparing autobiography into sparse songs that quietly rejected symmetry and happy endings while they poured out her yearning. As she ushered in a confessional mode for pop songwriting, few of her emulators noticed that her seemingly unguarded revelations were so finely constructed.
And at the time it was released, Rolling Stone said:
"...on Blue she has matched her popular music skills with the purity and honesty of what was once called folk music and through the blend she has given us some of the most beautiful moments in recent popular music."
The review also said of one of the songs on Blue, "Little Green" - 
The pretty, "poetic" lyric is dressed up in such cryptic references that it passeth all understanding.
The reason the lyrics were so cryptic, it turns out is because the song was about the daughter that Joni gave birth to at age 21, and gave up for adoption. 

I generally agree with the Rolling Stone review about the quality of the songs; and that the album has a thematic tie in the paramour that Joni is writing about. Although a sub-theme that Rolling Stone seems to have missed is California, which is mentioned in three songs on the album - one of them being Little Green. Knowing the meaning behind Little Green helps to tie things together: Joni is abandoned by the baby's father - he goes off to California because he's heard that everything is warmer there. When she writes to him to let him know he has a daughter he "sends her a poem" - that is, he sends her no money, not to mention doesn't return,  and so "she is lost to you" - Joni has to give her up for adoption.

The irony is that eventually Joni will make her way to California too, and consider it her home - she longs for it when she's in Europe in "California" and she describes her feelings on returning to California in "This Flight Tonight" and in "River" contrasts the weather in California to places (like Canada) where it snows at Christmas time: "It don't snow here, it stays pretty green..."

Blue marks the return of Stephen Stills, who played on Mitchell's first two studio albums. Crosby produced her first album. The CSN&Y connection had been maintained for "Ladies of the Canyon" thanks to the two songs she wrote for Graham Nash and Neil Young.

The songs on Blue are more catchy than not, the opposite of Song to a Seagull. I adore these:

All I Want - so upbeat and fun and it's amazing how much rocking out can be accomplished by one woman and an acoustic guitar.

Carry - I love the tune and the lyrics. And autobiographical as ever, the lyrics reveal the economic benefits of being a popular composer: "maybe I'll go to Amsterdam, or maybe I'll go to Rome, and rent me a grand piano and put some flowers round my room." Mitchell is a member of what was known at the time as the "jet set."

California - once again a perfect blend of tunefullness and jet set lyrics: "Sitting in a park in Paris France...", "met a redneck on a Grecian Isle" "bought me a ticket, I caught a plane to Spain..."

This Flight Tonight - she has second thoughts about returning to California:
"Oh star bright, star bright, you've got the lovin' that I like all right, turn this crazy bird around, shouldn't have got on this flight tonight." And once again a great high-tempo rocker with mostly Joni and her open tunings. And her voice is in top form on those high notes.

River - a down-mood piece, notable for her ironic use of "Jingle Bells" throughout contrasted with the refrain : Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.
It's a beautiful piece but it will make you blue if you've ever had a romantic relationship.

A Case of You is another downer with one of the best similes in pop-rock history: "You are in my blood like holy wine, you taste so bitter and so sweet oh I could drink a case of you and I would still be on my feet." And this time she rocks out on an Appalachian dulcimer.