on 22 May 2013
Sometimes music just connects with you - you can like a lot of bands, lot of artists, then an artist just comes along that REALLY gets to you, and, for lack of a less pretentious way of putting it, really stirs the emotions - Joni Mitchel makes music that you don't always simply enjoy, but music that you genuinely connect with as well, on some deeper, explainable level. Since the first time I listened to Bob Dylan, 3 years ago and Tim Buckley 2, music has had this effect on me, and naturally this happened with Joni Mitchell. She is an artist whose main period of brilliance contained in this set really does not need a strenuous introduction - Her folksy, melodic, sparse beginnings evolve into increasingly jazzy, increasingly wild and rebellious, mature pop music, starting from the rather underrated, folksy songs from to a seagull to the wonderful tribute to a legend that is Mingus, by this point taking her jazzy pop into full on, sparse vocal jazz music. Joni Mitchell's discography is one to really get into, to listen to chronologically, tracing the evolution of her sound as her albums roll out, experiencing not only brilliant songs, but also the really rather interesting and constantly quite exciting evolution of a fantastic songwriter and evocative, emotional lyricist. Great songs, evocative imagery and genuine emotional depth is what you get here, a very fulfilling experience, especially for such a fantastic price.
Now for the albums themselves - I will rate and give a small review for each of them;
SONG TO A SEAGULL - Not Mitchell's best set of songs, and the vocals have a less intimate, more grand and almost classical touch to them that I personally feel is not QUITE as effective as later work from her. However, this is still a great listen, featuring one of her most beautiful compositions in "CACTUS TREE", a strongly melancholy song where the lyric "While she's so busy being free" and its delivery will, guaranteed, make you cry like a baby. Other personal Highlights include "NIGHT IN THE CITY" with its unusual vocals, and "THE DAWNTREADER" with its "epic", sort of grandiose sound. 08/10
CLOUDS - a stunning second album, improved in every way from her debut, be it lyrically, musically, vocally. This is a stunningly good collection of songs f - a lovely selection of melodies and words filtered through a sparse, melancholy folk sound that goes straight to your heart and stays there. This is, in my opinion, the most "haunting" Mitchell album this side of Blue, perhaps the most expertly executed set of songs in her melancholy folksy style - Listen to the truly sad sounding melodies on ANY of the songs here and tell me they didn't stir your emotions/long buried heartache even just a single bit. Personal highlights for me would be, naturally "BOTH SIDES NOW", containing what has to be one of her finest melodies. Ditto "SONG ABOUT THE MIDWAY" AND "I DON'T KNOW WHERE I STAND", a song which I first listened to when mourning lost love and unsure of my place within the world. Let's just say it didn't make me feel any better - but you music is good when it affects you as deeply as this song did to me! a great little flipside is "CHELSEA MORNING", this albums version of a pop song - a lovely, more upbeat number - 10/10
LADIES OF THE CANYON - starting to experiment more here - sticking to her melancholy, folksy singer-songwriter sound, but greatly expanding it at the same time, with a somewhat more poppy sound on some songs, and a slightly more experimental Jazzy-pop sound on some that would be developed much further in future albums. I would say it is not quite as strong or confident in terms of overall sound as what came before or, especially, what would follow, but this is a masterpiece in its own right - song highlights include a fair few number; You get the sweet , catchy (and yes, still largely "sad" sounding) songs like "MORNING MORGANTOWN" and "BIG YELLOW TAXI" and the atmospheric "THE ARRANGEMENT", which sees Joni really beginning to pull away from the straight ahead melancholy folksy melodies and vocal stylings. My personal favorite track is "THE CIRCLE GAME", which begins as a typically lovely little folksy number and leads into a nursery-rhyme and impossibly sad sounding chorus. 10/10 (just)
BLUE - Brilliantly written, impossibly sad, lovelorn, desolate, and beautiful, lyrically, musically, vocally. In terms of vocals, this may be her finest moment; melodic like her previous folksy stuff, but more stretched, more flexible than before, a perfect combination of what came before and what came after. Also, quite simply, it is her finest collection of songs, although maybe that opinion is clouded due to my own personal predilection for this style, who knows. Highlights are effectively every song apart from the final, but my own personal favorites are, "ALL I REALLY WANT", this albums version of an upbeat pop song "CAREY", "CALAFORNIA", which I think adopts a less out and melodic vocal style from Mitchell, and proves she can convey wonderful, heartfelt melodies just as well when straying from her previous predominate style. my favorite has to be "THIS FLIGHT TONIGHT", for which I will offer up no explanation - just listen to it. STUNNING album, but the exact opposite of an album you would want to listen to after breaking up with someone. 10/10
FOR THE ROSES - Somewhat of a stylistic stop-gap that keeps some of blue's sparse, folksy nature yet furthers the jazz-pop she would come to expertly write and sing, For the Roses is never the less a fantastic statement from an ever growing song-writer even if it does not sound as solid as what would come later. Fantastic variety that mostly works in it's favor, with increasing use of the piano. Favorite songs for me here include "YOU TURN ME ON I'M THE RADIO", a relatively upbeat pop song with very effective backing vocals, "SEE YOU SOMETIME", maybe the most heartfelt and blue-esque song here, and a song that emanates the same quality of that album as well. There is also the unusual "COLD BLUE STEEL AND SWEET FIRE", which has a much different sound, with vocals angled more to the jazzy, esoteric and subtle than ever before. 09/10
COURT AND SPARK - Even though melancholy is still the order of the day here Court feels very much like the stylistic culmination of her ever evolving sound up to this point, fully applying the jazz-pop sound, ditching most of the remnants of her old folksy sound. There is an upbeat, piano driven sound going on here - with guitars that manage to be nice and bluesy, and a more suitably talkative style of vocals that still retain a wonderful talent of conveying her lovely melodies. Also probably her second best collection of songs - more poppy than the route she would take, there seems to be full effort here to make these songs some of her catchiest ever, including the wonderful "COURT AND SPARK", "FREE MAN IN PARIS", "PEOPLES PARTIES" and the blusier, almost funkier "CAR ON THE HILL" 10/10
THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS - This is a much more experimental, more subtle, less out and out catchy album than it's predecessor. Once again furthering her ever increasing jazzy sound, to a wilder, deeper extent. Make no mistake though, the songs here, whilst not as accessible as her previous cuts, remain quite brilliant - a lot of songs taking on a sort of balladic jazzy tone, low key, slow, subtle music that creeps in through repeated listens. Song highlights for me would have to be "THE JUNGLE LINE", a song the like of which she would never write again, at least not that I have heard; a wild, tribal song with great, twisting vocals from Mitchel. on the flipside, there is the stunning, piano driven "SHADES OF SCARLET CONQUERING", in my top 5 Mitchell songs; a ballad with a sound so melancholy it stands alongside the best from Blue and Clouds in terms of sadness, and containing some of her finest melodies ever. Definitely this albums best song, containing an impossibly yearning tone. I also adore "HARRY'S HOUSE/CENTERPIECE", which starts off as a song typical of this album really, before evolving into a stunningly well done little blues/jazz number by the end. "SHADOWS AND LIGHT" is also a stark delight, mainly vocals, minimal instruments. 09/10
HEJIRA - VERY much continuing the sound of summer lawns, this disappointed me on first listen. the songs did not sound subtler, less obvious, they simply sounded more, well, boring, really. However, with a fair number of repeated listens this has become a real favorite of mine, containing two of my personal favorite Mitchell songs in the underrated masterpiece that is "AMELIA", which contains my favorite Mitchell vocal line/melody ever this side of This flight tonight and shades of scarlet, and has some excellent guitarwork that intertwines PERFECTLY with the vocals. The other is "BLACK CROW", a very different song from Amelia, a slightly more "tribal" number, and very typical of this albums basic style, I feel - once again great, distinctive guitarwork and a very fine central vocal refrain. So, yeah, jazzier, more experimental, and subtler sum this album in my opinion, and it may take some of you a few listens to sink in. It certainly did for me but it is well worth it - the songs and melodies here may not be as obvious as what has came before, but the best of it easily stands up to it. 09/10
DON JUAN'S RECKLESS DAUGHTER - This seems the least well thought of of Joni Mitchell's first ten albums, something that I understand. However, this contains much better songs than typical critical opinion wold have you believe. Sure, it doesn't quite reveal itself upon repeated listens in quite the same way as Hejira does, this very much sticks to the same style but once again in a more radical, less obvious style. So, AGAIN, great evolution of her sound, this time however, the songs aren't quite there in the same way as before. There are highlights here, though, including the wonderful "OTIS AND MARLENA", containing the most obvious melody of the album, and also by chance it's best. Wonderful central vocal refrain here. I'm also a fan of "DON JUANS RECKLESS DAUGHTER", as it is a fair representation of the basic style of the album and has some nice moments which emerge after a few listens. I feel I have to mention "THE TENTH WORLD", not as a highlight, but as a warning. Experimental music is not something I avoid (evidence; Starsailor by Tim Buckley is one of my top 5 albums of all time), BUT this is basically 6 minutes of tribal drumming and is both repetitive AND a little boring. 07/10
MINGUS - This may be where I get some disagreements. Very much like how I perceived Court to be the culmination of all the albums up to that point, this feels very much like the final chapter in the second half of the album selection here - very sparse, spacey, jazzy, and also quite possibly her subtlest album yet. Putting aside the little interludes and focusing on the songs, I really am a fan of the material on this album. I always appreciate and enjoy digging into the subtlety on Mitchell's post court and spark work, having the songs reveal themselves over time, and this may be the most rewarding in that aspect. Once you get used to/accept the style of the album, and once the songs reveal themselves to you fully, this is an album thats sound borders on the hypnotic, with quiet, unassuming power. "GOD MUST BE A BOOGIE MAN" is in my top 10 Mitchell songs and is a stark stunner. The refrain of god must be a boogie man and the chant that follows it is a spine-tingling moment for me. "THE WOLF THAT LIVES IN LINDSEY" has a more heartfelt tone to it in the vocals, a more delicate guitar tone in PLACES, and has a lovely subtle melody. 09/10
Like I said before, this is a set of albums to listen to chronologically - you go on a highly interesting journey, charting Mitchell's musical evolution, a very fulfilling and enjoyable journey containing some of the finest songs and music of all time. Music that really does go straight to your soul. And stays there.