JONI MITCHELL - STORY
Joni Mitchell is born like a Roberta Joan Anderson,
The two performed together at coffee houses and folk clubs, playing several Mitchell originals including "The Circle Game." The latter inspired fellow Canadian Neil Young to write the reply "
Following her divorce in 1967, Mitchell moved to
Her success on the
Her trip produced several songs, including the comical tribute to "
Other early material included the plaintive "Eastern Rain," "Just Like Me" and "Brandy Eyes," which displayed Mitchell's love of sharp description and internal rhyme. Mitchell was initially discovered by budding manager Elliot Roberts at
which featured several songs joyously proclaiming the possibilities offered by life, as well as its melancholic side. "Chelsea Morning" presented a feeling of wonder in its almost childlike appreciation of everyday observations. The title of the album was borrowed from a line in "Both Sides Now," which had since become a massive worldwide hit for Judy Collins. The chorus ("It's love's illusions I recall/I really don't know love at all") became something of a statement of policy from Mitchell, whose analyses of love — real or illusory — dominated her work. With CLOUDS, Mitchell paused for reflection, drawing material from her past ("Tin Angel," "Both Sides Now," "Chelsea Morning") and blending them with songs devoted to new-found perplexities. If "I Don't Know Where I Stand" recreates the tentative expectancy of an embryonic relationship, "The Gallery" chronicles its decline, with the artist as the injured party. The singer, however, was unsatisfied with the final collection, and later termed it her artistic nadir.
Apart from her skills as a writer, Mitchell was a fine singer and imaginative guitarist with a love of open tuning. Although some critics still chose to see her primarily as a songwriter rather than a vocalist, there were already signs of important development on her third album, LADIES OF THE CANYON.
Its title track, with visions of antique chintz and wampum beads, mirrored the era's innocent naivety, a feature also prevailing on "Willy," the gauche portrait of her relationship with singer Graham Nash.
Mitchell is nonetheless aware of the period's fragility, and her rendition of "
Within the song, Mitchell contrasts her professional success with the uncomplicated pleasure that a street performer enjoys. The extent of Mitchell's commercial acceptance was demonstrated on the humorous "Big Yellow Taxi," a sardonic comment on the urban disregard for ecology. The single was a surprise Top 20 hit and was even more surprisingly covered by Bob Dylan.
Following a sabbatical, Mitchell returned with her most introspective work to date, BLUE.
Less melodic than her previous albums, the arrangements were also more challenging and the material self-analytical to an almost alarming degree. Void of sentimentality, the work also saw her commenting on the American Dream in "
in which elaborate horn and woodwind sections buoyed material on which personal themes mixed with third-person narratives. The dilemmas attached to fame and performing, first aired on "For Free," reappeared on the title song and "Blonde In The Bleachers" while "Woman Of Heart And Mind" charted the reasons for dispute within a relationship in hitherto unexplored depths. "You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio" gave Mitchell a US Top 30 entry, but a lengthy two-year gap ensued before COURT AND SPARK appeared.
Supported by the subtle, jazz-based L.A. Express, Mitchell offered a rich, luxuriant collection, marked by an increased sophistication and dazzling use of melody. The sweeping "Help Me" climbed to number 7 in the
The strength of the album lay in the powerful arrangements courtesy of Tom Scott, and guitarist Robben Ford, plus Mitchell's own love of jazz rhythms, most notably on her amusing version of Annie Ross's "Twisted." The quality of Mitchell's live performances, which included stadia gigs during 1974, was captured on the live album MILES OF AISLES.
which not only displayed her increasing interest in jazz, but also world music. Her most sophisticated work to date, the album was less concerned with introspection than a more generalized commentary on American mores. In "Harry's House," the obsessive envy of personal possessions is described against a swirling musical backdrop that captures an almost anomic feeling of derangement. The
was equally adventurous, it was noticeably less ornate, echoing the stark simplicity of early releases. The fretless bass of Jaco Pastorius wrought an ever-present poignancy to a series of confessional compositions reflecting the aching restlessness encapsulated in "Song For Sharon," an open letter to a childhood friend. The same sense of ambition marked with HEJIRA, Mitchell produced another in-depth work which, though less melodic and texturous than its predecessory, was still a major work. The dark humour of "Coyote," the sharp observation of "Amelia" and the lovingly cynical portrait of Furry Lewis, "Furry Sings The Blues," were all memorable. The move into jazz territory continued throughout 1978-79, first with the double album, DON JUAN'S RECKLESS DAUGHTER,
and culminating in her collaboration with Charlie Mingus. The latter was probably Mitchell's bravest work to date, although its invention was not rewarded with sales and was greeted with suspicion by the jazz community. On MINGUS,
she adapted several of the master musician's best-known compositions. It was an admirable, but flawed, ambition, as her often-reverential lyrics failed to convey the music's erstwhile sense of spontaneity. "God Must Be A Boogie Man" and "The Wolf That Lives In Lindsay," for which Joni wrote words and music, succeeded simply because they were better matched.
A live double album, SHADOWS AND LIGHT
featured Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius among the guest musicians. Following her marriage to bassist Larry Klein, Mitchell appeared to wind down her activities. Finally, she signed a long-term contract with Geffen Records and the first fruits of this deal were revealed on WILD THINGS RUN FAST in 1982.
A more accessible work than her recent efforts, it also lacked the depth and exploratory commitment of its predecessors. The opening song, "Chinese Cafe," remains one of her finest compositions, blending nostalgia to shattered hopes, but the remainder of the set was musically ill-focussed, relying on unadventurous, largely leaden arrangements. Its lighter moments were well-chosen, however, particularly on the humorous reading of Leiber And Stoller's "Baby, I Don't Care." The Thomas Dolby produced DOG EAT DOG
was critically underrated and represented the best of her '80s work. Despite such hi-tech trappings, the shape of the material remained constant with "Impossible Dreamer" echoing the atmosphere of COURT AND SPARK. Elsewhere, "Good Friends," an uptempo duet with Michael McDonald, and "Lucky Girl," confirmed Mitchell's newfound satisfaction and contentment. In interviews, Mitchell indicated her intention to pursue a career in painting, a comment which some took as evidence of the loss of her musical muse. CHALK MARK IN A RAIN STORM
continued in a similar vein, while including two notable reworkings of popular tunes, "Cool Water," which also featured Willie Nelson, and "Corrina Corrina," herein retitled "A Bird That Whistles." Their appearance inferred the change of perspective contained on NIGHT RIDE HOME,
issued in 1991 following a three-year gap. Largely stripped of contemporaneous clutter, this acoustic-based collection invoked the intimacy of HEJIRA, thus allowing full rein to Mitchell's vocal and lyrical flair. Its release coincided with the artist's avowed wish to pursue her painting talents — exhibitions of her '80s canvases were held in
with production support from Larry Klein in Los Angeles.
1970 - Joni Mitchell & James Taylor London 1970
1998 - Taming the Tiger
2000 - Both Sides Now
2002 - Travelogue
2007 - Shine