Blue by Joni Mitchell

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Blue by Joni MitchellThe fourth album by Joni Mitchell, the 1971 release Blue, saw the folk singer reach her highest critical acclaim. The album employs sparse musical arrangements leaning heavily towards the folk genre, with Mitchell playing acoustic guitar, piano, or dulcimer as the primary instrument to accompany her vocals. Lyrically, each of the songs on Blue hone in on a specific feeling, situation or, in many cases, a specific person.

A Canadian native, Mitchell first sang publicly at bonfires before finally pursuing a paid gig at a folk and jazz club in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1962. She intended to pursue a career in art rather than music, but grew disillusioned by the priority given to technical skill over creativity in art school, so she migrated several times (to Toronto, Detroit, New York, and finally Los Angeles) in pursuit of a career as a folk singer. Before receiving widespread notoriety as a performer, Mitchell had success as a composer by writing several songs made popular by other artists, most notably Judy Collin’s Top 10 hit “Both Sides Now” in 1967. The following year, Mitchell released her debut album, Song to a Seagull, followed by Clouds in 1969 and Ladies of the Canyon in 1970, with each release being more popular and critically acclaimed than its predecessor.

Mitchell decided to stop touring for a year and focus solely on writing and painting. During this time she also took an extended tour of Europe, which was fertile ground for some of the “travelogue” songs that would appear on Blue. After recording in early 1971, an original version of the album was set for release in March but Mitchell decided to replace two of the songs with last minute compositions, delaying the album’s release until June.


Blue by Joni Mitchell
Released: June 22, 1971 (Reprise)
Produced by: Joni Mitchell
Recorded: A&M Studios, Los Angeles, 1971
Side One Side Two
All I Want
My Old Man
Little Green
Carey
Blue
California
This Flight Tonight
River
A Case of You
The Last Time I Saw Richard
Primary Musicians
Joni Mitchell – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Dulcimer
James Taylor – Guitars
Russ Kunkel – Drums, Percussion

On of the last minute additions to the album, “All I Want” starts this off with a bright and heavy use of an Appalachian dulcimer and is presented as a pop/folk song with great melody. “My Old Man” follows as the first of several solo piano tune which was presumably written about Mitchell’s former love interest Graham Nash. The sad but beautiful “Little Green” is the first true folk tune on the album, utilizing an Open G tuning to give each note a clean, ringing sound. The song was originally written in 1967 and cryptically spoke of Mitchell’s daughter who she gave up for adoption in 1965 and did not reveal to the world until decades later.

“Carey” is an upbeat tune with a much richer arrangement than most of the tracks on the album. Mitchell’s vocals and dulcimer are backed by bass from Stephen Stills and slight percussion by Russ Kunkel. In a way, the music on this track previews some of Mitchell’s more complex material later in the seventies, while the lyrics straddle the line between idealism and material comfort. The slow and melancholy, piano-fused title track finishes the first side as a slightly anti-drug, “the party’s over” type of lament.

Joni Mitchell in 1971

“California” features a cool acoustic by Mitchell and James Taylor, on top of which the singer employs plenty of lyrical and dynamic improvising. The song’s lyrical theme is based on her longing for home while traveling in France. “This Flight Tonight” has a darker acoustic feel with a descending chord structure in the pre-chorus. The lyric tell of the singer’s regrets as she departs on a flight and the song was later rearranged into a hard rock classic by the band Nazareth.

“River” is a Mitchell solo piano ballad, which borders on being a Christmas song. It is told from the perspective of a person in a warm climate, longing for the cold and frozen ‘river” through poetic and inventive lyrics, with Mitchell slightly incorporating “Jingle Bells” on the ending piano. “A Case of You” is a methodical solo acoustic track with a subtle, second guitar by Taylor and features joyous, love-themed lyrics synonymous of “drinking in” a person like beer or whisky. The album concludes with “The Last Time I Saw Richard”, a piano ballad with ethereal vocals and lyrics which document Joni’s brief marriage to Chuck Mitchell while struggling to be a folk singer in the mid 1960s.

Beyond its many subsequent accolades, Blue was also a commercial success in its time, reaching #15 in the US and #3 in the UK. With the album’s success, Mitchell decided to return to live touring and continued on to develop some of the most interesting music of her career.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.

The Hissing of Summer Lawns
by Joni Mitchell

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The Hissing of Summer Lawns by Joni MitchellJoni Mitchell continued her musical evolution from folk and pop towards free form jazz with her adventurous 1975 album, The Hissing of Summer Lawns. The album incorporates a plethora of musical elements ranging from native African instrumentation to the latest synthesizer technology and various elements in between, all nicely accenting Mitchell’s songwriting and vocal melodies. Mitchell also brought in over a dozen musicians from various rock and jazz genres to record on the 10 tracks of this album.

After a prolonged break from touring at the beginning of the decade, Mitchell decided to return to live performances after the success of the 1971 album Blue. With this, she also started to move towards more pop oriented material starting with the Top 40 hit “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” from the album For the Roses. In early 1974, Mitchell released Court and Spark, which included her first Top 10 hit “Help Me” while also slightly incorporating jazz elements. During the subsequent tour for that album, several Los Angeles shows were recorded for the commercially successful live album, Miles of Aisles.

The Hissing of Summer Lawns was the second album which Mitchell self-produced (following Court and Spark). She entered the studio in early 1975 to record acoustic demos of songs written during extensive touring of the previous years. Over the next several months, these songs expanded with ever complex arrangements and a wider range of instruments. Speaking of the album, Mitchell stated; “this record is a total work conceived graphically, musically, lyrically and accidentally…the whole unfolded like a mystery….”


The Hissing of Summer Lawns by Joni Mitchell
Released: Novewmber 23, 1975 (Asylum)
Produced by: Joni Mitchell
Recorded: A&M Studios, Hollywood, 1974
Side One Side Two
In France They Kiss on Main Street
The Jungle Line
Edith and the Kingpin
Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow
Shades of Scarlett Conquering
The Hissing of Summer Lawns
The Boho Dance
Harry’s House / Centerpiece
Sweet Bird
Shadows and Light
Primary Musicians
Joni Mitchell – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards
Larry Carlton – Guitars
Victor Feldman – Keyboards, Percussion
Max Bennett – Bass
John Guerin – Drums

The opener “In France They Kiss On Main Street” starts with solo acoustic strumming before the verse breaks in with a complex arrangement, led by the bouncy fretless bass of Max Bennett and the reserved but timely guitar licks by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. Mitchell delivers the nearly stream-of-consciousness lyrics about differences in cultural norms on this song which was released as a single. The innovative track “The Jungle Line” uses a field recording of the African Drummers of Burundi along with other creative percussive effects built on a synthesizer and deadened acoustic strings. This all makes for an odd, unique backing which serves as a nice canvas to bring out the fine melodies that persist throughout the track.

“Edith and the Kingpin” next settles into a mellow groove with exquisite production that brings the various elements which make a potpourri of sonic flourishes to complement the basic melody and acoustic strumming. The cool vibe continues on “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow”, which features nice chord changes, a direct bass line and a percussive orchestra, including congas by Victor Feldman. Best of all on this track is the swelling, pedal effected guitars by Larry Carlton, which serve to bring out the beauty of Mitchell’s great vocal melody. “Shades of Scarlett Conquering” is a club-like, minor key piano ballad with eventual accompaniment by laid back jazz group and string arrangement. A long instrumental section, led by the electric piano of Victor Feldman finishes the song and original first side of the album.

Joni Mitchell in 1975

Co-written by John Guerin, “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” has a bass-driven groove with plenty of percussion and keyboards for its own little mellow rock orchestra. The track also features an acoustic guitar by James Taylor and the subtle addition of wind and reed instruments, which work to push this title track over the top. “The Boho Dance” starts as a piano ballad but kicks in with a jazzy arrangement as it progresses, with a slight flugle horn and bass flute adding just enough atmosphere during the song proper. Mitchell got the title from a passage in the Tom Wolfe novel, The Painted Word.

“Harry’s House / Centerpiece” is built around a decent acoustic ballad with its share of cool guitar and trumpet effects by Robben Ford and Chuck Findley respectively. The middle part of the song incorporates the pure club jazz song “Centerpiece” and features the piano of Joe Sample and harmonized, high-pitched vocals, which work very well for this part. “Sweet Bird” has a very reserved arrangement with slow and steady acoustic chords and distant electric guitar effects by Carlton. “Shadows and Light” is a very creative (and weird) way to conclude the album as a solo performance, built by Mitchell in the studio. Solo vocal lines are accented by rich, multi-tracked harmonies and slight synths, almost like Medieval monk chants.

The Hissing of Summer Lawns received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1977. Following the album’s release, Mitchell participated in several all-star concerts and took an extensive cross country trip which supplied the inspiration for her 1976 album, Hejira. That album also had a heavy jazz influence as did much of the material Mitchell composed throughout the remainder of the decade.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell

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Court and Spark by Joni MitchellCourt and Spark is the sixth album by Joni Mitchell and the first where she moved towards pop and jazz elements to blend with her base folk compositions. The album has been considered by some to be a concept album due to its consistent, recurring themes about love and fleeting relationships. Another underlying theme is Los Angeles and Mitchell’s apparent inability to leave it despite her negative view of the city and its inhabitants. Musically, the new approach worked well and was well-received by audiences as Court and Spark became her best-selling album and lone chart-topper.

Mitchell released her debut album Song to a Seagull in March 1968, followed by the Grammy award winning Clouds in 1969. Subsequent albums Ladies of the Canyon, Blue, and For the Roses were all met with increasing popularity and critical praise through the early years of the seventies. These albums were also the first on which Mitchell also acted as producer.

While recording and producing Court and Spark, Mitchell intentionally made a break with her earlier folk sound. She was backed by the “L.A. Express”, a talented group of musicians led by guitarist Larry Carlton. She would later tour with this group and recorded a series of shows in August 1974 that were used for the future live album Miles of Aisles.


Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell
Released: January 1, 1974 (Asylum)
Produced by: Joni Mitchell
Recorded: 1973
Side One Side Two
Court and Spark
Help Me
Free Man in Paris
People’s Parties
Same Situation
Car On a Hill
Down to You
Just Like This Train
Raised on Robbery
Trouble Child
Twisted
Primary Musicians
Joni Mitchell – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Clavinet
Larry Carlton – Guitars
Tom Scott – Woodwinds & Reeds
Wilton Felder – Bass
John Guerin – Drums & Percussion

 

While Court and Spark is pretty solid throughout, there is no doubt that it is a bit top-heavy, with the first four tracks being the best on the album. The title track “Court and Spark” contains slow, minor key piano and extra-melodic vocals, with Mitchell’s voice pivoting smoothly through the many differing parts. This song constantly feels like it is about to break out, but instead offers great restraint and ends rather abruptly with strong piano bass notes followed by a single slide guitar note. “Help Me” became Mitchell’s only Top 10 single as a pleasant pop ballad with a deeper musical, lyrical, and melodic connotations and great bass by Wilton Felder. Lyrically, the song talks about finding the balance between commitment and freedom;

It’s got me hoping for the future and worrying about the past / ‘Cause I’ve seen some hot, hot blazes come down to smoke and ash / We love our lovin’ but not like we love our freedom…”

 
Written in tribute to Asylum records owner David Geffen, “Free Man in Paris” contains bright and upbeat motifs over the bedding of Mitchell’s driving acoustic and the subtle shuffle beat by drummer John Guerin. Guest José Feliciano adds some Jerry Garcia-like interlude riffs on guitar. “People’s Parties” is a short song built on the strummed 12 string acoustic and recursive vocal melody. This song has no real structure but repeating verses until the “laughing it all away” and the direct fade to the piano ballad “Same Situation”. This builds as it goes along, with tremolo guitar notes and soaring melodies of beautiful sadness.

“Car on a Hill” is a moderate pop/funk song with more excellent exercises on Mitchell’s vocal range and a couple of unique sections where it dissolves into an avant garde section. The Grammy award winning “Down to You” was recognized for its very rich arrangement, which may be a bit much in parts as the song seems to get lost and unsure of itself. The mood picks up with “Just Like This Train”, a bright acoustic track with the variety and vibe of those on the early part of the album and lyrics that use a train and station as allegories for relationships.

“Raised on Robbery” is a straight-forward, true rocker, which was released as the lead single ahead of the album in December 1973. This outright rock tune was emblematic of Mitchell’s new musical direction and features The Band’s Robbie Robertson on lead guitar. “Trouble Child” is another pleasant soft rock track with the slightest tinge of an edge, as it musically has just the slightest elements of jazz, led by the trumpet of Chuck Findley. The album finishes with a cover of the 1952 Annie Ross jazz tune “Twisted”, a half-serious ode to the protagonist’s insanity, which contains some backing skits by the comedy team Cheech & Chong.

Court and Spark received four Grammy nominations as an album and eventually went double platinum. Joni Mitchell continued to migrate towards jazz rock on subsequent fine albums, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and, Hejira, but neither were quite as successful as this one.

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1974 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

Top 9 Rock Festivals of All Time

This week Classic Rock Review joins the celebration of the 45th Anniversary of the historic 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. In conjunction with Top 9 Lists, we present a list of the Top 9 Rock Festivals of all time, along with a bonus list of Top 9 Single Day, Single Location Concerts.

Woodstock from behind the stage

1. Woodstock

August 15-18, 1969
Bethel, New York

This remains the mother of all music festivals, held at a 600-acre dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur. A series of coincidental events unfolded which effected the location and operation of this festival, which grew to become a “free” event for over 400,000 attendees. Regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, 32 acts performed during the rainy weekend, starting with Richie Havens, and concluding with a memorable performance by Jimi Hendrix as the crowd dispersed mid-morning on Monday, August 18th. Woodstock was immortalized in a later documentary movie as well as a song by Joni Mitchell, who was one of many major acts that did not attend by later regretted it.

Woodstock Performers: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix and Gypsy Sun Rainbows

Buy Woodstock soundtrack
Buy Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music DVD

2. Monterey Pop Festival

June 16-18, 1967
Monterey, California

Jimi Hendrix at MontereyCredited as the event which sparked the “The Summer of Love”, The three-day Monterey International Pop Music Festival had a rather modest attendance but was soon recognized for its importance to the performers and significance to the sixties pop scene. The lineup consisted of a blend of rock and pop acts with memorable performances by The Who and Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Monterey Pop Performers: Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s, Ravi Shankar, The Mamas and the Papas

Buy Monterey Pop Festival Live album

3. Live Aid

July 13, 1985
London and Philadelphia

Live Aid, PhiladelphiaStill the largest benefit concert 30 years on, Live Aid was a also the first live multi-venue event, with over 70,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium and close to 100,000 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Organized by musician Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats as relief for the Ethiopian famine, the concert evolved from Band Aid, a multi-artist group who recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984. Live Aid was also one of the largest worldwide television broadcasts, with an estimated audience of 1.9 billion in about 150 nations. Memorable performances and moments included those by Queen, U2, Dire Straits, a reunited Black Sabbath, and a loose reunion by members Led Zeppelin, the first since their breakup in 1980.

Live Aid Performers: Status Quo, The Style Council, The Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, Nik Kershaw, Sade, Sting, Phil Collins, Branford Marsalis, Howard Jones, Bryan Ferry, David Gilmour, Paul Young, U2, Dire Straits, Queen, David Bowie, Thomas Dolby, The Who, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Band Aid, Joan Baez, The Hooters, Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Run–D.M.C., Rick Springfield, REO Speedwagon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Santana, Ashford & Simpson, Madonna, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kenny Loggins, The Cars, Neil Young, The Power Station, Thompson Twins, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin (announced as “Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Tony Thompson, Paul Martinez, Phil Collins”), Duran Duran, Patti LaBelle, Hall & Oates, Mick Jagger, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, USA for Africa

Buy Live Aid DVD

4. Isle of Wight Festival

August 26-30, 1970
Isle of Wight, UK

Isle Of Wight Festival, 1970In sheer numbers, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival may be the largest ever, with estimates of over 600,000, which is an increase of about 50% over Woodstock. Promoted by local brothers Ronnie, Ray and Bill Foulk, the 5-day event caused such logistical problems (all attendees had to be ferried to the small island) that Parliament passed the “Isle of Wight Act” in 1971, preventing gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special license. Memorable performances included late career appearances by Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, and The Who, who released their entire set on the 1996 album Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Isle of Wight 1970 Performers: Judas Jump, Kathy Smith, Rosalie Sorrels, David Bromberg, Redbone, Kris Kristofferson, Mighty Baby, Gary Farr, Supertramp, Howl, Black Widow, The Groundhogs, Terry Reid, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, Fairfield Parlour, Arrival, Lighthouse, Taste, Rory Gallagher, Chicago, Procol Harum, Voices of East Harlem, Cactus, John Sebastian, Shawn Phillips, Joni Mitchell, Tiny Tim, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Doors, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Melanie, Good News, Ralph McTell, Heaven, Free, Donovan, Pentangle, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Richie Havens

Buy Message to Love, The Isle of Wight Festival DVD

5. Ozark Music Festival

July 19-21, 1974
Sedalia, Missouri

Ozark Music Festival stage“No Hassles Guaranteed” was the motto of the Ozark Music Festival, held at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in 1974. While this festival offered an impressive lineup of artists as well as a crowd upwards of 350,000 people, the Missouri Senate later described the festival as a disaster, due to the behaviors and destructive tendencies of the crowd.

Ozark Music Festival Performers: Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Blue Öyster Cult, The Eagles, America, Marshall Tucker Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Boz Scaggs, Ted Nugent, David Bromberg, Leo Kottke, Cactus, The Earl Scruggs Revue, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Electric Flag, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Joe Walsh and Barnstorm, The Souther Hillman Furay Band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Charlie Daniels Band, REO Speedwagon, Spirit

6. US Festival

May 28-30, 1983
Devore, California

Steve Wozniak’s US Festivals were staged on two occasions in September 1982 and May 1983. The second of these was packed with a lineup of top-notch eighties acts who performed in an enormous state-of-the-art temporary amphitheatre at Glen Helen Regional Park.

1983 US Festival Performers: Divinyls, INXS, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, The English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Stray Cats, Men at Work, The Clash, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions, Van Halen, Los Lobos, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, The Pretenders, Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie

7. The Crossroads Guitar Festival

June 4-6, 2004
Dallas, Texas

Crossroads Festival 2004 adStarting in 2004, the Crossroads Guitar Festivals have been held every three years to benefit the Crossroads Centre for drug treatment in Antigua, founded by Eric Clapton. These concerts showcase a variety of guitarists, with the first lineup at the Cotton Bowl stadium in 2004 featuring some legends along with up-and-comers hand-picked by Clapton himself.

2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival Performers: Eric Clapton, Johnny A, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ron Block, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Doyle Bramhall II, JJ Cale, Larry Carlton, Robert Cray, Sheryl Crow, Bo Diddley, Jerry Douglas, David Honeyboy Edwards, Vince Gill, Buddy Guy, David Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain, Eric Johnson, B.B. King, Sonny Landreth, Jonny Lang, Robert Lockwood, Jr., John Mayer, John McLaughlin, Robert Randolph, Duke Robillard, Carlos Santana, Hubert Sumlin, James Taylor, Dan Tyminski, Steve Vai, Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Walsh, ZZ Top, David Johansen

Buy Eric Clapton: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2004 DVD

8. Live 8

July 2, 2005
Locations world wide

Pink Floyd at Live 8Held 20 years after he organized Live Aid, Bob Geldof’s Live 8 was even more ambitious, being held in nine different locations around the world on the same day. Timed to coincide with the G8 conference in Scotland that year, the goal was to raise money to fight poverty in Africa. The most memorable moment from the concerts was at Hyde Park in London where the classic lineup of Pink Floyd reunited for the first time in over two decades.

Live 8 Performers: U2, Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Mariah Carey, R.E.M. The Killers, The Who, UB40, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Bob Geldof, Velvet Revolver, Madonna, Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Will Smith, Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Rob Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Wonder, Maroon 5, Deep Purple, Neil Young, Buck Cherry, Bryan Adams, Mötley Crüe, Brian Wilson, Green Day, a-Ha, Roxy Music, Dido, Peter Gabriel, Snow Patrol, The Corrs, Zola, Lucky Dube, Jungo, Pet Shop Boys, Muse, The Cure

Buy Live 8 DVD

9. Woodstock ’94

August 12-14, 1994
Saugerties, New York

Organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock festival, Woodstock ’94 was promoted as “3 More Days of Peace and Music”. in fact, this concert took place near the originally intended location of that first show and other similarities such as common performers, similar crowd size, rain, and mud.

Woodstock ’94 Performers: Blues Traveler, Candlebox, Collective Soul, Jackyl, King’s X, Live, Orleans, Sheryl Crow, Violent Femmes, Joe Cocker, Blind Melon, Cypress Hill, Rollins Band, Melissa Etheridge, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, John Sebastian, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Aerosmith, Country Joe McDonald, Sisters of Glory, Arrested Development, Allman Brothers Band, Traffic, Santana, Green Day, Paul Rodgers Rock and Blues Revue, Spin Doctors, Porno For Pyros, Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Peter Gabriel

Read more on Woodstock ’94 from our recent Comebacks and Reunions special feature


Bonus Top 9 List: Best Single Day, Single Location Shows

The Who at Concert for New York City

1. The Concert for New York City October 20, 2001. New York, NY
2. The Band’s Last Waltz November 25, 1976. San Francisco, CA
3. Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Celebration May 14, 1988. New York, NY
4. Concert for Bangladesh August 1, 1971. New York, NY
5. Knebworh Festival June 30, 1990. Knebworth, UK
6. Texxas Jam July 1, 1978. Dallas, TX
7. Farm Aid September 22, 1985. Champaign, IL
8. Canada Jam August 26, 1990. Bowmanville, Ontario
9. Altamont Free Concert December 6, 1969. Tracy, CA

~

Ric Albano

Hejira by Joni Mitchell

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Hejira by Joni MitchellJoni Mitchell once said, “from time to time the river of my music needs new tributaries.” And so it was with Hejira. She slowly tilted towards a more jazz influenced sound, but in a very original way. This album may be her best overall artistically, even though mainstream critics will always echo each other in insisting that 1971’s Blue is Mitchell’s masterpiece album. No doubt that is a fine album but it is a bit too “folk” for some of us rock fans. On Hejira the sound is forged by the finger-picked electric guitars of Joni Mitchell, the odd yet pleasant bass flourishes of Jaco Pastorius, and very minimal forms of any other instrumentation. This is all the canvas beneath the poetic and pretty vocals of Mitchell, whose extraordinary talents are at their height on this album.

The title is apparently a transliteration of the Arabic word heijra, which means “journey.” This makes sense because the songs were written by Mitchell on a solo drive from Maine all the way across country to her home in Los Angeles. Having traveled solo across the country myself on a few occasions, I can relate to some of the scenery painted in these songs fueled by a bittersweet combo of restless adventure and surreal isolation. While many of the songs speak of specific places and events, the underlying theme of the album is set in the music itself. The inflections of Mitchell’s voice capture the constant motion of the road and scenery. It is the languid occupation of the driver’s seat while all the “action” takes place within the mind.

Remarkably, the album contains a healthy dose of musical diversity from these very sparse instrumental arrangements. Each song is guitar based because of the mobility of that instrument unlike Mitchell’s other primary instrument, the piano. But it is really hard to lock many of the songs into a specific genre because they are truly original. For this reason many critics employed their favorite catch-all and deemed Hejira a “jazz” album, but I don’t think this is totally accurate.

 


Hejira by Joni Mitchell
Released: November, 1976 (Asylum)
Produced by: Joni Mitchell
Recorded: A&M Studios, Hollywood, CA, 1976
Side One Side Two
Coyote
Amelia
Furry Sings the Blues
A Strange Boy
Hejira
Song For Sharon
Black Crow
Blue Motel Room
Refuge of the Roads
Primary Musicians
Joni Mitchell – Lead Vocals, Acoustic & Electric Guitars
Jaco Pastorius – Bass
Larry Carlton – Acoustic & Electric Guitars
John Guerin – Drums
Bobbye Hall – Percussion

 

The album begins with its strongest and most forceful song “Coyote”, with the triple sonic delights of the guitar strumming, fret-less bass, and very melodic vocals. It is clear from the start that this is nothing typical as the song turns on several dimes, never quite letting the listener relax into any specific groove. The lyrics tell of a presumed affair on one of the stops along her travels.

On the opposite end of the album, “Refuge of the Roads” contains more fantastic fretless bass by Pastorius, although this song is not quite as strong as others and kind of breaks off and whimpers with distant bass flourishes as the song (and album) concludes. “Amelia” contains a most poetic lyric and is closer to a traditional folk song than most songs on the album, but with its own share of alternate sounds. It is reminiscent of calmer folk songs by rock bands,such as “A Pillow of Winds” by Pink Floyd and “That’s the Way” by Led Zeppelin. Mitchell’s lyrics superimposed her own solo trip to that of Amelia Earhart, with a slight sense of trepidation.

“She was swallowed by the sky or by the sea
like me, she had a dream to fly…”

 
“Furry Sings the Blues” is probably the most controversial song on Hejira as it directly references (and somewhat mocks the style of) blues man Furry Lewis, who Mitchell had met the year before in Memphis. Problem is, Lewis despised the song and decried the unauthorized use of his name, at one point demanding to be paid royalties. Pastorius returns on “Black Crow”, a faster paced, tension filled song that is accented by electric overtones, while “Blue Motel Room” takes a complete turn towards a night club style, slow and bluesy jazz standard with Chuck Domanico on bass and John Guerin on drums.

Joni Mitchell Painting“Song for Sharon” is of epic length at nearly nine minutes and harkens back to the long folk pieces by Bob Dylan, as this piece focuses on the vocals and lyrics more than any other. However, it also contains a catchy swing beat and some nice female background vocals and refers to a trip to the famous Mandolin Brothers music store in Staten Island, New York. The title track, “Hejira,” is perhaps the best single example of the fantastic sound scape of this album of the same name. It features some clarinet by Abe Most, more wild bass motifs by Pastorius and a really cool picked electric riff, which gives the feeling of traveling more than anywhere else.

By the time Joni Mitchell wrote and recorded Hejira, she had already surpassed the apex of her career as far as commercial sales and critical acclaim. Consequently, the album did not sell as well as her earlier, more “radio friendly” albums. However, the test of time has shone on this album favorably and Mitchell herself believes the album to be a unique and personal gem stating, “I suppose a lot of people could have written a lot of my other songs, but I feel the songs on Hejira could only have come from me.”

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.