Friday, 15 February 2013

Joni Mitchell - The Studio Albums 1968 - 1979

Oh dear!  It is becoming increasingly apparent that I have reached the sort of age where the attractions of the Box Set are almost too much to ignore.  Despite the slightly grim aura of marketing hanging over such offerings I have now succumbed to both the Argent and Pink Floyd sets as described in this blog earlier.  In my defence I would contend that at the right price, this is a good way to pick up complete collections after the event (especially if they are all remastered).  The latest addition is from Joni Mitchell and comprises her first 10 studio albums from the 60s and 70s starting at the beginning with ‘Song To a Seagull’ and ending with ‘Mingus’ (leaving out the live double set, ‘Miles of Aisles’).

Whilst I have vinyl versions taken from the middle of this run (‘For the Roses’, ‘Court and Spark’ and ‘Hissing of Summer Lawns’) I have only dabbled with her early work and have nothing after ‘Lawns’ save a couple of below par 80s efforts, so this purchase was a good opportunity to review what I believe to be her best period.  Perhaps predictably, there were no real surprises.  The early folk albums are very fine but when compared to her subsequent work, not the ones I’d rescue from a burning building.  ‘Ladies of the Canyon’ is an unexpectedly welcome return to my collection (since I sold the original vinyl in the great late 70s clearout) but I still find ‘Blue’ curiously inconsistent despite what everyone else says.

The best stuff is undoubtedly contained within the albums I already own and the remainder is interesting but not essential.  I still can’t really warm wholeheartedly to ‘Hejira’ or ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’ and I don’t like Jazz enough to appreciate ‘Mingus’.  Nevertheless, the Big Three (‘Roses’, ‘Court’ and ‘Lawns’) are giants in the pop Parthenon and no mistake.  Genius is an overworked word but I’m tempted to use it here.  These are albums that everyone should hear – especially ‘For the Roses’ which to me is a work of unparalleled depth.  Coming between the confessional folk of ‘Blue’ and the blossoming pop of ‘Court and Spark’ its hybrid folk/pop arrangements cradle a set of lyrics that sit in your soul forever.

So where does this leave me?  What this series of albums does do is show the remarkable musical progression from folk through pop/rock to jazz.  These albums form the links in a ten album unbreakable chain where each individual work contains elements of both its predecessor and its successor in a way that reveals a relentless drive from one genre to the next.  It makes me struggle to think of another artist who has managed this feat with such dexterity and mastery of each form and over such a long period.  Perhaps Bowie?

One other thing – lyrics.  Has there ever been anyone else who has such mastery of song lyrics?  If nothing else, Joni Mitchell showed how it was done to the extent that a lyric sheet was an essential part of her albums.  They are still albums where I actually listen to the lyrics with rapt attention.  In the history of popular music, these albums are probably essential.


Adrian said...

I love Joni Mitchell - for all the musical reasons you've noted. And, for being so honest and candid off the stage, as well.

For whatever reason, and I can't think of why it is, I am not familiar with the album "For the Roses'. I intend to fix that!

"Blue" IS my favourite Joni album. Perhaps living here in Canada's Pacific Northwest it resonates most.

music obsessive said...

Hi Adrian - I know 'Blue' is many people's favourite and there is some great stuff on it but it doesn't flow for me. 'Roses' on the other hand, does. However, be warned that it is not a work that hits you immediately - I found that it just crept up on me after several listenings and then I couldn't leave it alone. Some albums are like that!

Adrian said...

I appreciate what you're saying about "flow". That's not a word I'd likely apply to "Blue". It's more a collection of individual gems of songs - and the linkage is an emotional state, moreso than anything aural or musical.

Songs such as "River", "A Case of You", "Carey" et al - hold such strong associations for me, of people, places, times.

I suppose, in that way, "Blue" for me is like Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks".

I shall be seeking out "For the Roses".

And I concur re Joni Mitchell's supreme mastery of lyrics!

Adrian said...

p.s. and I DO find there is a musical flow to "Astral Weeks"... at the same time, it's songs are indelibly linked for me to moments and people in life

music obsessive said...

Yes, you have identified a strong point. I came to Joni at a time when I was leaving school and being thrust into the adult world. Her music was something I could cling to from my 'previous' life and the time and place is essential when I listen now.