The excellent JoniMitchell.com website allows members to score Mitchell’s albums and songs. There is a page listing all songs by rating, but no analogous page that I can find with the album ranks. Being curious to see what the members’ wisdom-of-crowds had to say, I scraped the current scores off the 19 pages for her 19 studio albums, with the following results:
[See also previous and subsequent posts in this series.]
I’m trying to move quickly to catch up with myself — I’m still a few months behind — so apologies if these books are not given as much coverage as they deserve.
Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words — Malka Marom
A truly fascinating set of three (very long) interviews, conducted many years apart, with the most endlessly fascinating singer-songwriter of them all. (If you don’t accept my assessment, ask David Crosby.) Malka Marom was a folk singer herself, so has a good angle on the issues that Joni is dealing with — personal, musical and poetic. They’re some of the most revealing interviews I’ve ever read, not in terms of salacious details but of slowly and effectively opening up the essence of a person, revealing what makes her tick.
And I’d have to say that Joni doesn’t come out of it all that well, in the end. It’s apparent in all three interviews that she’s quite a self-focussed person, and that tendency becomes stronger and darker across the three interviews. Towards the end we read
I’m reliving old injuries. I’m reliving them and I’m telling the person off that I didn’t tell off. I’m trying to expel anger. And it hangs in the air and I go, ‘Was that very satisfactory, when you said that to them? No.’ And then I kind of do it again.
For such a free spirit, she seems to find it hard to let go of old hurts and resentments. It’s a shame; but, no doubt, a part of what made her such an absolutely superb artist. And she really does stand alone.
Marom’s book is well worth reading for anyone who loves Joni’s work. Continue reading
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the music of Joni Mitchell recently, and I wanted to share an observation. It’s not news that her music is all about subverting expectations — see for example the ubiquitous use of the unresolved suspensions that she terms “chords of inquiry”. Here I want to draw attention to a few places where she makes consecutive parts of her lyrics contradict, or at least reinterpret, each other.
Here is my now-traditional top-ten list of the albums I’ve listened to the most in the previous calendar year. (See previous entries for 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.)
I listen much more to whole albums than to individual tracks, so each year I pick the ten albums that I listened to the most (not counting compilations), as recorded on the two computers where I listen to most of my music. (So these counts don’t include listening in the car or on the iPod.) I limit the selection to no more than one album per artist, and skip albums that have featured in previous years. Then from each of those ten objectively selected albums, I subjectively pick one song that I feel is representative.
As I was ambling along beside the road into Ross-on-Wye a while back, I found myself idly singing a verse from Joni Mitchell’s song Amelia (from the Hejira album):
“I pulled into the Cactus tree motel
To wash away the dust
And I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust.”
But I was wrong. That’s not how the song goes. The second line of that verse is “to shower off the dust”, not “to wash away the dust”.
In BBC Radio 4’s venerable programme Desert Island Discs, a guest is invited to imagine themselves cast away on a desert island, and allowed to choose eight pieces of music to take with them. (The quaint “discs” in the title of course refers to gramophone records; I for one welcome the BBC’s refusal to retitle the programme Desert Island Digital Audio Files.)
I think this is a fascinating exercise, and one that I’ve often toyed with doing myself. Continue reading
Wondering what to get yourself for Christmas this year? If you love music, then you should help yourself to this box-set of Joni Mitchell’s first ten studio albums at the frankly ridiculous price of £20.99 [at amazon.co.uk] or the slightly higher but still crazy $44.39 [at amazon.com].
A strange album, this. I otherwise know Joni Mitchell only from her first half-dozen albums, which are rather sparse, fragile folk music. Hejira represents a transition to a much more jazzy style (apparently already under way on her previous album The Hissing of Summer Lawns, but I don’t know that one). Joni’s distinctive vocal style is the give-away, but that aside there is not much on Hejira that would make you think it’s by the same person as Blue.
The opening track, Coyote (above), is fairly representative, though a little more up-tempo than much of the album. The distinctive fretless bass of Jaco Pastorius gives this song, and a few others on the album, a glossy feel that juxtaposes oddly with Joni’s very wordy freestyle singing — almost scat in places — and contributes to the hazy, impressionistic tone of the whole.
Hejira is one of those albums that is much more than the sum of its parts. As a folk-singer, Joni would probably not like to hear it described as a concept album, but that’s really what it is — a sequence of meditations, some more melancholy than others, on the subject of Life On The Road. Almost all the songs are travelling songs, and they have in common a restless quality. That integrated quality of the album makes song selection hard. If I wanted someone to discover Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, I would not really be able to pick a single track as representative — I’d have to sit that person down and listen through the album, start to finish, or at least the whole of side 1. Much the same is true of Hejira. In the end, I picked Coyote in part because it’s the opening track, and therefore the only one that doesn’t rest on the mood created by a predecessor. But really, this is an album to lose yourself in, not to pick and choose from.
[Buy from amazon.com — currently at $7.99 — or from amazon.co.uk at the stupidly low price of £3.99 with free delivery in the UK.]
Next time: more mid-to-late seventies folk music!