Thursday, August 14, 2014

30 Blue (1971) Joni Mitchell

1. All I Want
2. My Old Man
3. Little Green
4. Carey
5. Blue
6. California
7. This Flight Tonight
8. River
9. A Case of You
10. The Last Time I Saw Richard

A lot of people tell me that they really like Bob Dylan as a songwriter but can't stand him as a performer. They'll list their favourite Dylan songs but point out that the versions they like are all covers. They like Hendrix's Watchtower or Adele's To Make you Feel My Love but they can't stand the originals.

I've never understood this view myself because I love Dylan's voice but it's exactly the way I feel about Joni Mitchell. There are songs on this album that I really love and adore but not in their original incarnation. I've got a version of the Indigo Girls doing River which is just fantastic. One of my favourite things ever is a version of A Case of You as performed by Tori Amos. Irish balladeer Luka Bloom does a rendition of Urge For Going (recorded for this album but dropped at the last minute) which is just sensational. But the original versions are things that I'd really rather not hear again.

I just have a huge problem with Joni's voice. She's talented but she has a vocal style which I can only describe as "irritating". Most Mitchell songs follow a fairly predictable pattern. She uses her fairly deep and almost conversational tone for a bit and the suddenly swoops off into the higher registers for a while as she leaps about from note to note hitting them all but making you wish she'd drop about half of them. Then suddenly she's back to chatty deep voice but you know she's only readying herself for another opportunity to fling her voice skywards once again.

It's an approach that really takes its toll on my patience pretty quickly and I have to say an entire album of Joni being Joni gets pretty grating after a while. In fact it quickly becomes extremely painful to listen to as Mitchell seems to take each track and use it as a platform to prove what an impressive register she's got. As each song progressed I wanted her to calm down, take a deep breath and just sing the tune she'd written. I know when Emily Saliers and Tori Amos do it there's real beauty there but Joni seems to have a total disregard for the songs she's written. It's almost as if she wrote them at home and performed them to herself a few times and now she's bored with them and feels the need to play with them to entertain herself in the studio.

It's not hard to respect Mitchell, or at least it wasn't before she recently affected a transformation into a bitter and cranky old lady. She writes a really nice song, her lyrics are brilliant and she's an under rated guitarist and piano player. She also surrounds herself with a collection of talented friends. She might have broken up with Graham Nash when she recorded Blue but she was still capable of hanging around with his good friend Stephen Stills. And anything Stills plays on is immediately better for his presence.

Listening to Blue made me want to appreciate it as a piece of songwriting without  Joni's voice to put me off. So I jumped on youtube and started listening to cover versions of the pretty much the entire tracklisting. There are some very talented people out there doing some great covers of Mitchell's songs and listening to them makes you realise that she could write a great tune.

I'm not saying Mitchell is a bad singer, far from it, she's definitely a talent, but she has a style that just sets my teeth on edge and prevents me from enjoying her work, at least in its original form. I'll keep enjoying the Indigo Girls playing River and Tori Amos singing A Case of You but I won't feel the need to return to Joni herself anytime soon. I'm glad she exists but I'm glad she's avoidable.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This album is so overrated. This album is actually 2.75 out of 5 not 3. "

-I love people who feel the need to qualify their rating with fractions. A five star rating system isn't enough for this guy, in fact a 10 star system isn't enough either (he'd need to tell us it was 5.5. He needs a twenty star system so he can give it the 11 stars it deserves.

So does this make you blue or see red? Let me know below.

1 comment:

  1. A flawless singer-songwriter milestone. Each song is a jewel. No excess, do dross, everything works. Nothing on it I skip. It's my idea of perfect album, like Van Morrison's "Moondance" -- ten great songs, five each side. I love the range between the carefree easy bounce of the first few side to the dourness of the title track. The second side carry that kind of reflectiveness further. Brilliant the way she plays "Jingle Bells" in a minor key to underscore the sadness of "River." Also, the last track, "The Last Time I Saw Richard," is so unusual lyrically -- it starts off sounding like some kind of personal essay. It doesn't try to scan. Purely confessional. At her best, I think of her voice as I do Dylan's, that she's her own best interpreter. That's not to slight others who cover her, but few singers have her range or reach or can achieve her emotional intimacy. This and "Court and Spark" are her absolute best.