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JONI MITCHELL - Blue cover
3.75 | 4 ratings | 1 review
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Album · 1971


1. All I Want (3:33)
2. My Old Man (3:35)
3. Little Green (3:28)
4. Carey (3:03)
5. Blue (3:04)
6. California (3:51)
7. This Flight Tonight (2:52)
8. River (4:05)
9. A Case of You (4:23)
10. The Last Time I Saw Richard (4:16)

Total Time: 36:13


Joni Mitchell / guitar, dulcimer, vocals

Additonal musicians:
Stephen Stills / bass & guitar on track 4
James Taylor / guitar on tracks 1, 6 & 9
Sneeky Pete / pedal steel on tracks 6 & 7
Russ Kunkel / drums on tracks 4, 6 & 9

About this release

Reprise Records – MS 2038

Recorded at A&M Studios, Los Angeles, California

Thanks to Chicapah, snobb, js for the updates


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Let’s be clear about something up front. This is a better folk album than it is a jazz-related one. Having gotten that out in the open I can also assure you that it deserves to be here. Over her long career Joni Mitchell transformed herself from what I considered a delicate coffee house circuit habitué strumming her Martin acoustic while singing dreamy tunes about clouds and romance in the beginning to a mature jazz vocalist and songwriter with few peers. The three albums that preceded “Blue” were full of decent folk fare but I didn’t know any guys that would bend your ear with “Hey man, you heard the new Joni Mitchell record? It’s phenomenal!” Didn’t happen. If they were honest they’d tell you they only pretended to like her early stuff because their lady loves thought she spoke to them through her lyrics and music and if he were to utter a discouraging word about Ms. Mitchell he’d be foolishly dumping a load of misery upon himself and spending a few lonely nights sleeping on the living room couch. I found her voice to be tinny and slightly irritating on those initial LPs and made the mistake of voicing that opinion to my then girlfriend. We didn’t last long after that and I have a strong suspicion that my smug criticism of her favorite female artist played a big part in her leaving me, breaking my heart and smashing that sucker flat. (That or my inability to commit. Whichever.)

But “Blue” was different. Not drastically, but different nonetheless. Some of the songs I was hearing off of it had a jazzier slant and it seemed like the piano was more prominent than before. And lyrically it sounded like Joni was no longer the wide-eyed innocent waif she seemed to be previously, indicating that perhaps life and love had cruelly turned on her as it had on me and many people I knew. Even the LP’s somber but striking cover was a drastic change from the “sunbeams & butterflies” illustrations that graced her other albums. No, there was definitely something different about this one. Her voice had less of a lighthearted lilt and more of an unsure, cautious and sometimes cynical tone to it that made me reevaluate my view of who she was. Mitchell’s words weren’t limited to addressing only those of the feminine gender this time around; she was speaking for all of us walking wounded who were wondering where that bus that ran us over had come from. She had become relevant to me.

She opens this record with “All I Want,” a tune that embodies the change in musical attitude I’ve alluded to. The stinging staccato plucks on her dulcimer proclaim that this isn’t necessarily going to be her normal gather-about-the-campfire-and-listen-to-the-groovy-folk-singer approach. Guest musician James Taylor’s jazz guitar chords weaving into the blend give the track a classy vibe as Joni moves effortlessly between her soprano and falsetto registers. “Oh, the jealousy, the greed/it’s the unraveling/and it undoes all the joy/that could be” she sings. I and many others could relate. On “My Old Man” Mitchell’s lone piano accompaniment further distances her from her simple folk roots and the song’s involved melody is unpredictable yet captivating. “Little Green” is next and it’s a bit of a step back into safer, more familiar territory for Joni. Her voice does betray a hard-earned maturity that’s beginning to creep into her style, though. It’s crystal clear as she croons knowingly “…and sometimes there’ll be sorrow.” Stephen Stills’ bass and guitar playing along with Russ Kunkel’s drums give “Carey” a distinctive west coast flavor that was so in vogue in the “lite rock” arena of the American music scene in 1971. The words try to be buoyant and carefree but the tell-tale line comes when she considers that “maybe it’s been too long/since I was scramblin’ in the street.” The album’s namesake number finds her returning to the piano stool, this time to create a Laura Nyro-ish atmosphere that fully engages the senses. When she sings “Blue, here is a shell for you/inside you’ll hear a sigh/a foggy lullaby/there is your song from me,” the sadness in her voice is palpable and real.

James Taylor contributes his underappreciated guitar expertise to “California” and his presence is welcome but Sneeky Pete’s pedal steel gives it too much of a C&W air for me to endorse it. Once again Mitchell puts up a happy façade as she goes on about how homesick she is while hanging out in Europe but her insecurity peeks through at the end when she asks her adopted home state “Will you take me as I am?/Will you?” Joni had always experimented with odd guitar tunings and that trick gives “This Flight Tonight” a larger backdrop but she also grounds it in a pedestrian folk rhythm to its detriment. “Sometimes I think love is just mythical,” she confesses. Next she presents the timeless “River.” This is the tune that made me realize that Mitchell was turning a corner in her composition skills and was to be taken much more seriously. Her jazz-tinted piano paints a bleak aural landscape hardening under a cloudy, frigid sky but she avoids becoming overly melodramatic vocally, making her despondency even more believable. “It’s coming on Christmas/they’re cutting down trees/they’re putting up reindeer/and singing songs of joy and peace/I wish I had a river/I could skate away on,” she cries. I know the despair of what she sings. And the “Jingle Bells” theme played in a minor key is pure genius. It makes an unforgettable impression front and back. The cute “A Case of You” is a retreat into her comfort zone of folk mannerisms. “I am a lonely painter/I live in a box of paints/I’m frightened by the devil/and I’m drawn to those who ain’t…” she muses. It’s a nice tune but she’d been there and done that many times before. Joni ends with her brilliant “The Last Time I Saw Richard.” The piano brings out the best in her and it’s through the keyboard that her affection for jazz is most evident. The story she tells is so packed with bitter irony that it has stuck with me ever since the first time I heard it. Mitchell, like every naive romantic, refuses to believe a fellow artist’s sarcastic outlook could ever invade her rosy view of the world until the day arrives when she, too, finds herself “hidin’ behind bottles in dark cafes,” the very thing Richard warned her about.

If this was a folk music forum “Blue” would probably get the highest of ratings. It’s a very good album, indeed. However, this is a discussion of its jazz-relatedness and, more precisely, Joni’s vocal talent in that vein. In the framework of assessing it in that way the album is important only in its being a pivotal juncture in her development where her jazz leanings became noticeable. From “Blue” onward her folk tendencies would gradually become less and less evident and her jazz and art rock personality would become more and more dominant. If you look at this record in that light then you might find a place for it in your jazz music collection but keep your expectations low in that regard. Its true strength lies in its lyric content.

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