Monday Klassic Musik: Joni Mitchell / Black Crow

Sir Barken Hyena writes:

In the way of musical influences on le Barken, Joni Mitchell certainly looms large. At first, this seems a surprise. Why would a space and drug music addict like me have a good word for this weepy, introspective and very female chick singer-songwriter? Well, not all is as it appears.

Sure, she’s often lumped in with the likes of Carly Simon and Carole King, but that’s just pop music’s squinty-eyed vision. She’s nothing of the sort, and bears little resemblance to those lightweight talents, when properly understood. What we have here is a talent on the order of Miles or Picasso in their realms. I chose those two references carefully: for both exhibited the ability to reinvent themselves and stay relevant long past their sell-by dates, and yet retain their essence.

And so with Mitchell: from her debut as hippy flower child she never held back from her vision, whatever the commercial and artistic risks. At the height of her success and popularity she chucked it all by pursuing her own vision of a jazz-pop music revival. This earned the censure of Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone, who today needs an attribution, while Mitchell doesn’t.

The word that most comes to mind with Mitchell is “inventive,” followed by “restless”. Surely her future as a songwriter was assured after the success of “Clouds” as performed by Judy Collins, but that wasn’t it for her. Mitchell had questions in her mind, questions about what music could be, about, in the end, what she herself could become. And to make this vision real, she’s learned to make her art fire on all cylinders.

There are many excellent songwriters, excellent guitarists, excellent singers, excellent arrangers…Mitchell is all of them at once. She can breathe seductive lines of melody like incense smoke, spice her rhythms with unexpected and challenging syncopations, spin dark landscapes of unexpected new chords, and weave it all around her own unique poetic voice, one that rarely has recourse to stock phrases and cliches.

Mitchell is now in the hospital, with conflicting news of her condition. I hope she is well but in a sense she really can’t die. Far too many souls are walking around with her within for that.

About Sir Barken Hyena

IT professional and veteran of start ups. Life long musician and songwriter. Voracious reader of dead white guys. Lover of food and women.
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7 Responses to Monday Klassic Musik: Joni Mitchell / Black Crow

  1. JV says:

    I agree with you on Joni Mitchell, she is a major talent. However, I must take issue with your description of Carole King as a minor one. She’s one of the very best pop songwriters of the rock era.


    • Yeah, I was a bit harsh there, King is most certainly a great songwriter. What I was trying to get at is that though Mitchell is lumped in with her she’s quite a different sort of artist.


      • circusvargas says:

        That’s true.

        Man, what a band in that clip. Jaco, Metheny, Michael Brecker, Don Alias. Dream team of 80s jazz. And she knew how to use them in her songs. I’ve never been a huge fan of her stuff, but I can’t deny she’s a major artist. And her evolution from folk to jazz will always be impressive.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Faze says:

    What’s fascinating about Mitchell, King and Simon (if you’ve read that book about them, “Girls like Us”) is the seedy awfulness of most of the men they married or got involved with: losers, exploiters and fame hounds. (Another book, “Positively Fourth Street” shows how Bob Dylan and Richard Farina exploited the hell out of Joan Baez for their own aggrandizement — well worth it in Dylan’s case. But still shameful.)


  3. peterike2 says:

    Meh. A few great albums in the 70s and nonsense ever since. I like the opening of Robert Christgau’s review of her 2000 album “Both Sides Now,” where she takes on the role of interpretive singer:

    “My favorite Joni story is that they tried to do a TV special on her and none of her old friends would pitch in. Even if it’s a dumb rumor or a damned lie, it’s a hell of a metaphor for someone who loves herself so much nobody else need bother, and yet another reason to scoff at her concept song cycle about the rise and fall of an affair. But after decades of pretentious pronouncements on art, jazz, and her own magnificence, this very if briefly great singer-songwriter proves herself a major interpretive singer. Lucky to write two decent songs a decade now, she instead applies her smoked contralto to a knowledgeable selection of superb material by mostly second-echelon Tin Pan Alley craftsmen (and I do mean men).”

    He gave it an A-.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JV says:

      “Meh. A few great albums in the 70s and nonsense ever since.”

      Most artists never get even one great album. Hell, even one really good album. Her great stuff is still listened to and influences artists. Isn’t that good enough? How ’bout those Beatles? A few great albums in the 60s, then nada. Meh?


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