Joni Mitchell – Hejira (1976)

AllMusic Review: Joni Mitchell’s Hejira is the last in an astonishingly long run of top-notch studio albums dating back to her debut. Some vestiges of her old style remain here; “Song for Sharon” utilizes the static, pithy vocal harmonies from Ladies of the Canyon’s “Woodstock,” “Refuge of the Roads” features woodwind touches reminiscent of those in “Barangrill” from For the Roses, and “Coyote” is a fast guitar-strummed number that has precedents as far back as Clouds’ “Chelsea Morning.” But by and large, this release is the most overtly jazz-oriented of her career up to this point — hip and cool, but never smug or icy. “Blue Motel Room” in particular is a prototypic slow jazz-club combo number, appropriately smooth, smoky, and languorous. “Coyote,” “Black Crow,” and the title track are by contrast energetically restless fast-tempo selections. The rest of the songs here cleverly explore variants on mid- to slow-tempo approaches. None of these cuts are traditionally tuneful in the manner of Mitchell’s older folk efforts; the effect here is one of subtle rolls and ridges on a green meadow rather than the outgoing beauty of a flower garden. Mitchell’s verses, many concerned with character portraits, are among the most polished of her career; the most striking of these studies are that of the decrepit Delta crooner of “Furry Sings the Blues” and the ambivalent speaker of “Song to Sharon,” who has difficulty choosing between commitment and freedom. Arrangements are sparse, yet surprisingly varied, the most striking of which is the kaleidoscopically pointillistic one used on “Amelia.” Performances are excellent, with special kudos reserved for Jaco Pastorius’ melodic bass playing on “Refuge of the Roads” and the title cut. This excellent album is a rewarding listen. — David Cleary

Track Listing

Side one

  1. “Coyote” – 5:01
  2. “Amelia” – 6:01
  3. “Furry Sings the Blues” – 5:07
  4. “A Strange Boy” – 4:15
  5. “Hejira” – 6:42

Side two

  1. “Song for Sharon” – 8:40
  2. “Black Crow” – 4:22
  3. “Blue Motel Room” – 5:04
  4. “Refuge of the Roads” – 6:42

 

Schill Score: 7/10

 

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Joni Mitchell – The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (1975)

AllMusic Review: Joni Mitchell evolved from the smooth jazz-pop of Court and Spark to the radical Hissing of Summer Lawns, an adventurous work that remains among her most difficult records. After opening with the graceful “In France They Kiss on Main Street,” the album veers sharply into “The Jungle Line,” an odd, Moog-driven piece backed by the rhythms of the warrior drums of Burundi — a move into multiculturalism that beat the likes of Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, and Sting to the punch by a decade. While not as prescient, songs like “Edith and the Kingpin” and “Harry’s House — Centerpiece” are no less complex or idiosyncratic, employing minor-key melodies and richly detailed lyrics to arrive at a strange and beautiful fusion of jazz and shimmering avant pop. — Jason Ankeny

Track Listing:

All tracks are written by Joni Mitchell, except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “In France They Kiss on Main Street” 3:19
2. “The Jungle Line” 4:25
3. “Edith and the Kingpin” 3:38
4. “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow” 4:05
5. “Shades of Scarlett Conquering” 4:59
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” Joni Mitchell, John Guerin 3:01
2. “The Boho Dance” 3:48
3. “Harry’s House; Centerpiece” Joni Mitchell; Jon Hendricks, Harry Edison 6:48
4. “Sweet Bird” 4:12
5. “Shadows and Light” 4:19

 

Schill Score: 7.5/10

 

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Joni Mitchell – Court And Spark (1974)

AllMusic Review: Joni Mitchell reached her commercial high point with Court and Spark, a remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz which stands as her best-selling work to date. While as unified and insightful as Blue, the album — a concept record exploring the roles of honesty and trust in relationships, romantic and otherwise — moves away from confessional songwriting into evocative character studies: the hit “Free Man in Paris,” written about David Geffen, is a not-so-subtle dig at the machinations of the music industry, while “Raised on Robbery” offers an acutely funny look at the predatory environment of the singles bar scene. Much of Court and Spark is devoted to wary love songs: both the title cut and “Help Me,” the record’s most successful single, carefully measure the risks of romance, while “People’s Parties” and “The Same Situation” are fraught with worry and self-doubt (standing in direct opposition to the music, which is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last). — Jason Ankeny

Track Listing:

Side one
  1. “Court and Spark” – 2:46
  2. “Help Me” – 3:22
  3. “Free Man in Paris” – 3:02
  4. “People’s Parties” – 2:15
  5. “Same Situation” – 2:57
Side two
  1. “Car on a Hill” – 3:02
  2. “Down to You” – 5:38
  3. “Just Like This Train” – 4:24
  4. “Raised on Robbery” – 3:06
  5. “Trouble Child” – 4:00
  6. “Twisted” (Annie Ross, Wardell Gray) – 2:21

 

 

Schill Score:  7.5/10

 

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Joni Mitchell – Blue (1971)

AllMusic Review: Sad, spare, and beautiful, Blue is the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album. Forthright and poetic, Joni Mitchell’s songs are raw nerves, tales of love and loss (two words with relative meaning here) etched with stunning complexity; even tracks like “All I Want,” “My Old Man,” and “Carey” — the brightest, most hopeful moments on the record — are darkened by bittersweet moments of sorrow and loneliness. At the same time that songs like “Little Green” (about a child given up for adoption) and the title cut (a hymn to salvation supposedly penned for James Taylor) raise the stakes of confessional folk-pop to new levels of honesty and openness, Mitchell’s music moves beyond the constraints of acoustic folk into more intricate and diverse territory, setting the stage for the experimentation of her later work. Unrivaled in its intensity and insight, Blue remains a watershed. — Jason Ankeny

Track Listing:

Side one
  1. “All I Want” – 3:32
  2. “My Old Man” – 3:33
  3. “Little Green” – 3:25
  4. “Carey” – 3:00
  5. “Blue” – 3:00
Side two
  1. “California” – 3:48
  2. “This Flight Tonight” – 2:50
  3. “River” – 4:00
  4. “A Case of You” – 4:20
  5. “The Last Time I Saw Richard” – 4:13

 

Schill Score: 7.75/10

 

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