Joni Mitchell
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Joni Mitchell (1968), 6/10
Clouds (1969), 7/10
Ladies Of The Canyon (1970), 7/10
Blue (1971), 8/10
For The Roses (Asylum, 1972), 7.5/10
Court And Spark (1974), 7/10
Hissing Of Summer Lawns (1975), 6/10
Hejira (1976), 8/10
Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (1977), 5.5/10
Mingus (1979), 5/10
Wild Things Run Fast (Geffen, 1982), 6/10
Dog Eat Dog (1985), 5.5/10
Chalk Marks In The Rain (1988), 5/10
Night Ride Home (1991), 7/10
Turbulent Indigo (1994), 6.5/10
Taming the Tiger (1998), 5/10
Both Sides Now (2000), 4/10
Shine (2007), 5/10
Links:

Summary.
Joni Mitchell was not only the voice of the female revolution, but also one of the most innovative musicians of the era. Despite her hippy roots, she developed an aristocratic, austere, "adult" way of singing (often complemented by neo-classical piano playing), and used it to vivisect her own anxiety, while chronicling the psychological insecurity of her generation and of her sex. This ambitious program eventually wed her confessional style with fusion jazz and other non-rock idioms. Most of her art is autobiographical, dedicated to her own maturation and evolution, obsessed with the mission of finding a universal, historical meaning for her personal history. If Clouds (1969) and Ladies Of The Canyon (1970) were still folk-rock albums imbued with "West-Coast sound", Blue (1971) marked a monumental step forward: it injected the stream of consciousness into the folk ballad, and her voice became a finely-tuned instrument, capable of both colloquial and operatic deliveries. This introspective diary relied on piano-based compositions that were intense, convoluted and slightly neurotic. Another paranoid self-analysis, another formidable act of her autobiographical drama, For The Roses (1972) closed that era of experimentation. Court And Spark (1974) was a much lighter and softer work, although it showed her prowess at absorbing elements of soul and jazz. Self-indulgence triumphed again on Hejira (1976), her second masterpiece, and another stunning musical application of the stream of consciousness. Her subsequent ventures into jazz and electronic arrangements were presumptuous and unfocused, with the notable exception of Night Ride Home (1991).
Full bio.
(Translated from the Italian by Troy Sherman)

Joni Mitchell was one of the most influential musicians of the 1970s. She gave a voice to the crisis of femininity (one of the key themes of that era) and created on of the most aristocratic, artistic voices in rock music, a stark contrast to her hippie origins. In the midst of teenage music, Mitchell’s work is one of the earliest examples of rock for adults, even if the self-centeredness of the hippie culture led her to devote much to art itself, to indulge in a confessional style, and to seek a universal and historical significance to her personal affairs. She has also been seen as one of the first rock musicians to undertake a jazz fusion that did not limit itself to absorbing the rhythm of jazz into the rock song, but triumphed at penetrating deep into the depths of the infrastructure of rock.

The personality of the young Mitchell was one of the most fascinating of the era. She was an independent and intellectual female, and was placed into a musical environment. The sensitivity that she directed into her music was on one hand personal, dealing with her private life, full of anxieties and felicity, and on the other hand public, dealing with her stardom, end of innocence, and publication of the deepest secrets of her heart. Her music was a kind of intimate and psychological chronicle, a public confession of her condition of uncertainty and the malaise of stars in general. Her songs were created to reveal a web of fear, a sense of helplessness in the face of society and in front of herself. Choosing her own social independence, Mitchell unraveled the gilded prison of the stars, set to an existential musical background. Without complaint, she confesses.

If Grace Slick was the girl of utopia, dreams, and illusions, Joni Mitchell was the real girl, committed to daily survival as an individual and as an artist, a girl whose life is made up of habits and accidents that alter the habits. She was also a girl of contradiction, the most prominent paradox being her relationship of love and hate towards California and America as a whole; she both coveted and despised American and west coast life at the same time. The morality and melancholy is the prominent contradiction inherent in the challenge of life itself, a way of life led by a confused youth, both enjoying civilization and wanting to destroy it, without having the physical strength for either. Joni Mitchell is the result of these generational and personal contradictions.

In her texts, Mitchell maniacally explores her anxieties, sinking the knife and enjoying the pain of self-inflicted mental atrocities. Her poems are sentimental longings that always maintain composure in a limbo of universal sympathy, morbidly attached to a cosmic sense of loneliness and ecstasy.

Hers is poetry of fragments, particularly fragments of small daily events. She utilizes linear story development to create modern fairy tales with a tendency to mythologize that are impressionist watercolors, immediate and natural. Her songs have a conversational tone, a common plan, and are sculpted in the mind with the charm of a melody congealed to an image. Her voice, crystal clear, politely sung in a soprano, with clear diction and agile inflection, has an almost academic, alienating feel, pushing to extend vocal boundaries.

In addition to being part of a rock intelligentsia, Mitchell is also known for having a sophisticated and elegant attitude, in striking contrast with the characters of 1960s rock. Her high level of intelligence over time created an equally educated musician, able to get out of the cramped rooms of the folk scene and roam into the realm of avant-garde jazz.

Joni Mitchell (born Roberta Joan Anderson) started to play the guitar (or ukulele) in Canada during college. After completing her education (1965), Anderson married Chuck Mitchell, who gave her her name and brought her to the USA. In Detroit, the young Mitchell became known as a fine folk-singer, and the word spread quickly. Taking advantage of her 1966 divorce, she moved to Greenwich Village, where she was discovered and her songs became hits when sung by pop singers like Judy Collins.

She arrived in California in 1968 to be a part of the entourage of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. She rapidly became the girlfriend of Nash, which was the first of a series of romances between the stars of rock music. David Crosby taught her to play guitar featuring hyper-chromatic tunings. The music of Joni Mitchell (Reprise, 1968), later reissued as Song to a Seagull, is that of a pure folk-singer who is accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, and is striking for the kindly howling soprano (one vocal style more reminiscent of medieval songs) and for the sacred silence that surrounds her solemn stories. Typical of her style are the ineffable romantic ballad Michael from Mountains, the crackling honky-tonk piano and yodeling vocal counterpoints piece Night in the City, the impressionistic, ecstatic, and rarefied Song to a Seagull, and the lyrical and intense Cactus Tree.

Clouds (1969)is, if possible, even more austere. The songs run slowly and tenderly (the mythological ecstasy of Tin Angel, the Mediterranean suspense of Roses Blue) or are suspended in a sort of stunned soliloquy (The Fiddle and the Drum for one voice, the classical stream of consciousness I Think I Understand). The melodic peak is reached in two songs already released by other artists: Both Sides Now, dotted with arpeggios and impressionistic strokes, and Chelsea Morning, underlined by a lively and syncopated guitar playing.

The culminations of her “acoustic” period are the sweet lullabies of Ladies of the Canyon (1970), especially Morning Morgantown, one of her most gentle melodies, and Circle Game, which plays like a nursery rhyme. It is an album that alternates from rarefied pieces (For Free, one of her first formidable free-form piano ballads, and Rainy Night House) to more “public” songs: the anthem Woodstock and the ecological Big Yellow Taxi were marked by Mitchell’s first personal successes.

Joni Mitchell begins on this disc to expand her musical horizons, abandoning the “West-Coast sound” in favor of broader possibilities of expression. Her soprano is now a perfectly tuned instrument, capable of alternating recitatives with fluid ease, dramatic acuteness, and whispering trills of operatic falsetto.

With Blue (1971), Mitchell takes the lyrical and musical transformation that consecrates the zenith of her most introspective and autobiographical music. Blue is a king of vibrant travelogue following the end of a sentimental experience. Her voice, elegantly and vibrantly stretched, reaches its climax of the possibility of folk-singing, sinking in a continuous neurotic moan. The compositions are complex and convoluted, intentionally rugged and anti-spectacular, sonically skinny, verging on silence. The words are more lyrical and detached, and without false modesty face the problems of the new sexual ethic, like Erica Jong was doing around the same time with her fiction. The harmonies are more rhythmic and melodic when accompanied by a guitar (All I Want, Carey, California, This Flight Tonight) and represent the most serene and lively art of the Californian, with calls to CSNY and country rock. The other pieces, for ivory, rely on difficult balances between vocal inventions and strokes of a piano, and create an environment of “cultured” European art (Blue, My Old Man, River, The Last Time I Saw Richard) that is suffused in the brain. These piano pieces are real chamber sonatas, and represent the highest achievements of the harmonic music of Joni Mitchell. Though there are many digressions of theme on the album, the main conflict is one of a romantically attained wisdom, the conflict between love and freedom: love stifles freedom, and without freedom you cannot have creativity. Loneliness becomes a necessary evil for those who want to realize their own personality. In this abstract thesis, Mitchell sacrifices herself for her music, and is reduced to a mere witness of her own personal drama.

For the Roses (Asylum, 1972) closes the trilogy of the folk masterpieces. It is a decidedly feminine album that explores the issue of love from the point of view of the woman. If it is musically even more abstract than the last, in practice it is more accessible. The vocal contortions here are married in the most natural way possible, and music and lyrics avoid the petulance and self-pity of the litanies of Blue in favor of a more spontaneous romance. The arrangements, very savvy, for the first time split horns, strings, electric guitar, drums, and bass, although they are dosed with discretion. This record is a clear indication that Mitchell was changing direction, focusing on the music more than the lyrics.

The language of piano from Blue can still be heard in Banquet and Judgement, but in Blonde in the Bleachers one can observe the beginning of Mitchell’s transformation into a new sound, one that is more full-bodied and rhythmic. Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire fascinates with almost Hawaiian vocals and sophisticated arrangements. Electricity is her own version of a sentimental kitsch, and Let the Wind Carry Me is a rhythm and blues tune suffused with evocative blues. The catchy You Turn Me On and the personal manifesto of Woman of Heart and Mind, as well as giving a vivid picture, have the typical Californian setting, both in vocals and guitar phrasing.

Mitchell’s great trilogy consists of Ladies of the Canyon, the most folk, Blue, the most experimental, and For the Roses, a synthesis of intellectualism and progressive folk.

Coming to a point of perfect balance between folk, classical music, and pop music, and between anguish and ecstasy, Joni Mitchell now decides to assimilate jazz, too, in order to balance her softly unconscious weeps and latent neurosis with a fluent arrangement, even if it is at the expense of those dazzling images of painful, lapidary sensations.

Court And Spark (1974), the first and best in this direction, contains Mitchell’s only real hit, the soulful Help Me, complete with a brass kitsch in the background. Chamber strings, lively rhythms, and vocals on counterpoint dismantle the introspectiveness of Blue, thus fulfilling the natural progression from solo acoustic guitar to the ensembles pioneered on Roses. A more sinuous and less adventurous series of songs embroiders her stories of a betrayed lover on a colorful (Free Man in Paris, Car on a Hill, Same Situation) and sometimes even sparkling (the rowdy rhythm and blues of Raised on Robbery, the swinging scat of Twisted) harmonic tissue. Her stereotypical confessional piano style is replicated only in Down to You, tense and classical, and Court and Spark.

Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975) indulges in easy-listening with results that are far more mediocre. But, it does contain some brilliant ideas: Edith and the Kingpin, In France they Kiss on Main Street, Jungle Line, and Shadows and Light).

It would be another year before the artist would recover with a new album, Hejira (1976), dedicated to the journey of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 (the event that spurred Islam); it is an album conceived at the intersection between the flow of music and words found on Blue and the renewal of her folk program for jazz launched with Court and Spark.

The ballads are warm and lively (Refuge of the Road, with a cocktail jazz atmosphere, Coyote, with a Caribbean rhythm) or introverted and reserved (Amelia, a requiem for languid strokes of guitar and vibraphone, and Hejira, dreamlike and disconsolate due to the vortices of Jaco Pastorius). They are, for the most part, road-songs accompanied by a discreet instrumental texture. The common theme is the highway, a place of travel, of solitary meditations, of romantic adventures, of farewells and of memories. The peaks are the towering 8 minutes of the lyrical Song for Sharon, a sublimation of the Californian guitar and vocal style, and Furry Sings the Blues, with harmonica echoing Neil Young. On the other hand, the intensity of the previously naïve Mitchell is now completely deteriorated, and the singer seems eveer more absorbed in a form of paranoid self-pity.

The next record, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977) is an ambitious double-album, again with Pastorius on bass and now with Wayne Shorter on sax. It is lost in futile jazz swoons (16 minutes of planned orchestra on Paprika Plains, conducted by Mike Gibbs) and succeeds rarely (the convoluted and overwhelming soul of Jericho, the delirious and nearly Indian Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, the tribal and occult Dreamland). Mitchell’s jazz breakthrough takes the form of collaboration with Charles Mingus on Mingus (1979), which contains only one piece by Mitchell herself (The Wolf that Lives in Lindsay). It was interrupted by the death of the great musician. The pretentiousness of these works, however, alienates the public.

In the 80s, Mitchell’s activities thinned considerably. Melodically similar to Court and Spark, exquisitely arranged like Hejira, yet with lyrics more measured, sincere, warm, and deep (although revolving around the same themes of love, anxiety, and fears of a single woman growing older), Wild Things Run Fast (Geffen, 1982) is located halfway between pleasant intellectual entertainment (Be Cool, You Dream Flat Tires, Love).

Dog Eat Dog (1985) is the most commercial album, full of electronic arrangements and topical themes. This record is sung like the soul of a yuppie businessman, and it takes a team of technologists and the adoption of a scratchy vocal style to carry it from track to track: the alienated funk of Fiction, the symphonic and chilling dissonances of Three Great Stimulants, the ethno-disco Shiny Toys, the sentimental soul and heavy-metal of Good Friends. All songs are subtended by a climate of suspense and impending catastrophe, in line with Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. Dog Eat Dog and Impossible Dreamer act as a bridge to her classic style.

The change is dramatic, but not surprising. The modesty of the moral fables of the past reveals all of its cold and disenchanted anachronistic attitude with Mitchell observing the real world of the 80s, rife with tragedies, policies, urban neurosis, the power of the media, consumerism, ecological disasters, famine, and a thousand other evils of the century. The woman in Mitchell is suddenly awakened to realize that, while she was crying over her failures of love, the world suffered tragedies far more serious. The betrayals and the outrages of which she sang on her previous records were nothing compared to what was happening in the world. Aristocratically closed in her grief, Mitchell had never noticed. Her new didacticism still sounds hypocritical and out of place, always too abstract to be genuinely populist.

Chalk Marks in the Rain (1988) focuses on this new style of arrangement and brings it back to the sensitivity of the folk period, with exciting results in My Secret Place, The Beat of Black Wings, The Reoccuring Dream, Dancin’ Clown (with Billy Idol), and Snakes and Ladders, and a parade of special guests, from Willie Nelson to Peter Gabriel.

Joni Mitchell fu una delle musiciste piu` influenti degli anni '70. Per dar voce alle crisi della femminilita` (uno dei temi cardini di quell'era), Mitchell ha creato una delle voci artistiche piu` aristocratiche del rock, in palese contrasto con le sue origini hippie. In mezzo a tanta musica adolescenziale, l'opera di Joni Mitchell rappresenta comunque uno dei primi esempi di rock per adulti, anche se l'egocentrismo della cultura hippie l'ha spinta a dedicare troppa arte a se stessa, a indulgere nello stile confessionale, a cercare un significato storico universale per le sue vicende personali. Mitchell e` stata anche una delle prime musiciste rock a intraprendere una jazz fusion che non fosse limitata ad assorbire il ritmo jazz ma penetrasse in profondita` l'infrastruttura della canzone rock.

La personalita` della giovane Mitchell era una delle piu` affascinanti dell'epoca. Mitchell e` una ragazza indipendente e intellettuale, inserita in un ambiente particolare, quello della musica. La sua sensibilita` e` diretta da un lato alla sua situazione, alla sua vita privata, costellata di ansie e felicita`, dall'altro al mondo delle star, del quale conosce a menadito i piu` indiscreti segreti. La sua musica risulta cosi` una sorta di cronaca psicologica intima e pubblica, confessione sia della sua condizione d'insicurezza sia del malessere dei divi in generale. Di se` rivela la ragnatela di paure, il senso di impotenza di fronte alla societa` e di fronte a se stessa, alla sua stessa scelta di indipendenza sociale. Svela la dorata prigionia delle star, il retroscena esistenziale dello spettacolo. Non denuncia, confessa.

Se Grace Slick e` la ragazza dell'utopia, dei sogni, delle illusioni, Joni Mitchell e` la ragazza reale, quotidianamente impegnata a sopravvivere come individuo ed artista, una ragazza la cui vita e` fatta di abitudini, e di incidenti che alterano queste abitudini. Ed e` una ragazza piena di contraddizioni, prima fra tutte quel rapporto di odio e amore nei confronti della California e dell'America tutta, disprezzata ed agognata allo stesso tempo. La morale, malinconica, e` la contraddizione insita nella Contestazione stessa, in un modo di vivere giovanile che godeva la propria civilta` e voleva contemporaneamente distruggerla, senza averne la forza ne` fisica ne` morale. Joni Mitchell e` frutto di queste contraddizioni generazionali.

Nei propri testi la donna riesplora maniacalmente le proprie inquietudini, affonda il coltello nella piaga godendo del dolore e dell'atrocita` mentale che si auto-infligge. Le sue accese brame sentimentali hanno sempre un che di cerebrale che le situa in un limbo di commiserazione universale, attaccate morbosamente a un senso cosmico della solitudine e dell'estasi.

La sua e` una poetica di frammenti, di particolari, di piccoli fatti quotidiani, che lo svolgimento lineare delle sue storie, ora fiabe moderne con la tendenza a mitologizzare, ora acquarelli impressionisti, rendono immediati e naturali. Le sue canzoni hanno un tono discorsivo, piano e comune, si scolpiscono nella mente per il fascino di una melodia rappresa a un'immagine. La voce, cristallina, educata a un cantato da soprano, con la dizione limpida, le inflessioni agili, ha un modo quasi accademico, straniante, di porgere i versi.

Oltre che per far parte di una intelligentia rock, Mitchell e` nota anche per la raffinatezza e l'atteggiamento signorile, in vistoso contrasto con i personaggi rock degli anni '60. L'intelligenza spiccata ne hanno fatto col tempo una musicista colta, capace di uscire dalle anguste stanze del folk per spaziare di la` dal jazz d'avanguardia.

Joni Mitchell (Roberta Joan Anderson) inizio` a suonare la chitarra (o meglio l'ukulele) in Canada durante il college. Al termine del college (1965) sposo` il cantante che le diede il nuovo cognome e che la porto` negli USA. A Detroit la giovane Mitchell si fece conoscere come folk-singer dall'ugola pregiata e dalla parola svelta. Approfitto` del divorzio (1966) per trasferirsi al Greenwich Village, dove venne scoperta e le sue canzoni divennero hits nelle versioni di cantanti pop come Judy Collins.

Giunta in California nel 1968, Mitchell entro` a far parte dell'entourage dei Crosby Stills, Nash & Young, diventando rapidamente la ragazza di Nash, la prima di una serie di avventure sentimentali con divi della musica rock. David Crosby le insegno` a suonare la chitarra con le caratteristiche accordature iper-cromatiche. Stills le forni` l'accompagnamento strumentale per le sue prime incisioni. La musica di Joni Mitchell (Reprise, 1968), poi ristampato come Song To A Seagull, e` ancora quella di una folk-singer pura che si accompagna soltanto alla chitarra acustica, suggestiva per quel modo gentile e ululato di portare il soprano (uno stile vocale che ricorda piu` il canto medievale o l'aria da opera) e per il silenzio quasi sacro che circonda i suoi solenni racconti. Tipiche del suo stile sono l'ineffabile ballata romantica di Michael From The Mountain, il crepitio pianistico honky-tonk e i contrappunti vocali yodel di Night In The City, l'impressionismo estatico e rarefatto di Song To A Seagull, la lirica e intensa Cactus Tree.

Clouds (1969) e`, se possibile, ancor piu` austero. Le canzoni scorrono lente e delicate (l'estasi mitizzante di Tin Angel, la suspense mediterranea di Roses Blue) oppure si sospendono in una sorta di attonito soliloquio (The Fiddle And The Drum per sola voce, il flusso di coscienza s classicheggiante di I Think I Understand). L'apice melodico lo raggiunge pero` in due composizioni gia` fuori da questo stile: Both Sides Now, punteggiata da arpeggi e rintocchi impressionistici, e Chelsea Morning, sottolineata da un chitarrismo vivace e sincopato.

Il culmine del suo periodo "acustico" sono le soavi cantilene di Ladies Of The Canyon (1970), soprattutto Morning Morgantown, una delle sue melodie piu` gentili, e Circle Game, che sembra una filastrocca per bambini. E` un album che alterna momenti rarefatti (For Free, una delle sue prime ardue ballate pianistiche free-form, e Rainy Night House) alle sue canzoni piu` "pubbliche": l'inno a Woodstock e l'ecologica Big Yellow Taxi, tanto ritmata da diventare il suo primo successo.
Joni Mitchell comincia in questo disco a suonare anche il piano, allontanandosi dal "West-Coast sound" e allargando le proprie possibilita` espressive. Il suo soprano e` ormai uno strumento perfettamente accordato, capace di alternare con fluida naturalezza recitativi, acuti drammatici, bisbigli in falsetto e gorgheggi d'opera.

Con Blue (1971) si compie la trasformazione lirica e musicale che la consacra ai vertici della musica introspettiva ed autobiografica.
Blue e` una specie di diario di viaggio dopo la fine di un'esperienza sentimentale. La voce, finemente protesa e vibrante, tocca il culmine delle proprie possibilita` canore, sprofondando in un continuo lamento nevrotico. Le composizioni sono complesse e involute, volutamente irte e anti-spettacolari, scarne fino al silenzio. I testi sono, piu` lirici e distaccati, affrontano senza falsi pudori i problemi della nuova etica sessuale, come Erica Jong sta facendo nei suoi romanzi.
Le armonie sono piu` ritmate e melodiche quando si accompagna alla chitarra (All I Want, Carey, California, The Flight Tonight) e rappresentano il modo californiano della sua arte, piu` sereno e vivace, nel segno di CSN&Y e del country-rock; mentre si affidano alle invenzioni e ai difficili equilibri della voce quando accarezza i tasti del pianoforte, e in questi si ascolta il modo "colto", europeo, della sua arte (Blue, My Old Man, River, The Last Time I Saw Richard), tutto soffuso e cerebrale. Vere e proprie sonate da camera, queste ultime rappresentano le conquiste armoniche piu` alte della musica di Mitchell.
Pur fra le numerose divagazioni il tema dell'album, dall'alto di una raggiunta saggezza romantica, e` il conflitto fra amore e liberta': l'amore soffoca la liberta`, e senza liberta` non si puo` avere creativita'. La solitudine diventa un male necessario per chi vuol realizzare la propria personalita'. A questa tesi astratta Mitchell sacrifica la musica, ridotta a semplice testimone del suo dramma.

For The Roses (Asylum, 1972) chiude la trilogia dei capolavori folk. E` un album decisamente al femminile che esplora la problematica amorosa dal punto di vista della donna. Se musicalmente e` anche piu` astratto del precedente, in pratica e` piu` accessibile. Le contorsioni vocali si sposano in modo piu` naturale alla musica e i testi evitano un po' della petulanza e dell'auto-commiserazione delle litanie di Blue a favore di un romanticismo piu` spontaneo. L'arrangiamento, oculatissimo, per la prima volta contempla fiati, archi, chitarra elettrica, batteria e basso, seppur dosati con discrezione. Una chiara indicazione che Joni Mitchell sta mutando direzione, privilegiando la musica rispetto ai testi.
La lingua pianistica di Blue si ascolta ancora in Banquet e in Judgement, ai due capi del disco, ma in Blonde In The Beachers se ne puo` osservare la trasformazione in un nuovo suono, piu` corposo e ritmato. Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire affascina per i vocalizzi quasi hawaiani e per l'arrangiamento sofisticato, Electricity e` la sua versione del kitsch sentimentale, Let The Wind Carry Me e` un rhythm and blues soffuso ed evocativo. L'orecchiabile You Turn Me On e il manifesto personale di Woman Of Heart And Mind, oltre a dare un vivido ritratto di se`, hanno la tipica impostazione californiana, sia nei vocalizzi sia nel fraseggio chitarristico.

All'interno della trilogia Ladies Of The Canyon e` il piu` folk, Blue il piu` sperimentale, For The Roses la sintesi di un folk progressivo e intellettuale.

Giunta a un punto di perfetto equilibrio fra folk, musica colta e musica leggera, e fra angoscia ed estasi, Joni Mitchell decide di assimilare anche il jazz, in modo da bilanciare il suo pianto sommesso e seminconscio, e la nevrosi latente, con un fluente arrangiamento, anche se a scapito di quelle folgoranti lapidarie immagini-sensazioni di dolore.

Court And Spark (1974), primo e migliore in questa direzione, contiene anche il suo unico vero hit, il soul Help Me, con tanto di fiati kitsch in sottofondo. Archi da camera, ritmi vivaci e cori di contrappunto, smantellano l'impianto introspettivo di Blue, portando a compimento la progressione naturale che dal folk acustico per sola chitarra l'aveva portata all'ensemble di Roses. Un canto piu` sinuoso e meno avventuroso ricama le sue storie d'amante tradita su un tessuto armonico piu` variopinto (Free Man In Paris, Car On A Hill, Same Situation) e talvolta persino frizzante (il rhythm and blues scalmanato di Raised On Robbery, lo scat swingante di Twisted). Lo stile pianistico confessionale si replica soltanto in Down To You, tesissima e classicheggiante, e Court And Spark.

Hissing Of Summer Lawns (1975) indulge in quell'easy-listening di classe con risultati molto piu` mediocri, ma con ancora qualche spunto geniale (Edith and the Kingpin, (In France They Kiss on Main Street, Jungle Line, Shadows and Light).

Bisogna attendere un altro anno prima che l'artista si riprenda, con Hejira (1976), dedicato al viaggio compiuto da Maometto da La Mecca a Medina nel 622 (l'evento da cui ha inizio l'Islam), album concepito come il flusso di musica e parole che e` nella linea di Blue, ma fedele al programma di rinnovamento musicale lanciato con Court And Spark.
Le ballate, ora calde e vivaci (Refuge Of The Road, un cocktail jazz d'atmosfera, Coyote a ritmo caraibico) ora tenere e introverse (Amelia, requiem per languidi rintocchi di slide e tintinni di vibrafono, Hejira, onirica e sconsolata grazie ai vortici di basso di Jaco Pastorius), sono per lo piu` road-song accompagnate da un discreto tessuto strumentale. Il tema unitario e` l'autostrada, luogo di viaggi, di solitarie meditazioni, di avventure romantiche, di fughe, di addii, di ricordi. Svettano gli otto liricissimi minuti di Song For Sharon, sublimazione dello stile chitarristico e vocale californiano, e la spettrale ballata in chiave minore Furry Sings The Blues, con l'armonica arcaica di Neil Young. D'altra parte l'intensita` naive della prima Mitchell si e` ormai del tutto deteriorata, e la cantante sembra sempre piu` assorta in una forma paranoica di auto-commiserazione che altro non e` che un tipico snobismo da elite di pop-aristocratici.

Il successivo Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (1977) e` un doppio ambizioso, con Pastorius al basso e Wayne Shorter al sax, che si perde per lo piu` in futili deliqui jazz (i sedici minuti per piano e orchestra di Paprika Plains, direttore Mike Gibbs, che esasperano fino alla paranoia lo stile confessionale di Blue), riuscendo raramente (nel soul involuto e opprimente di Jericho, nella delirante e quasi Indiana Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, o nella tribale e occulta Dreamland) a sfruttare proficuamente l'eclettismo e l'incandescenza del nuovo sound. La svolta jazz si concretizza in una collaborazione con Mingus, Mingus (1979), che contiene un solo brano di Mitchell (The Wolf That Lives In Lindsay), interrotta dalla morte del grande musicista. La pretenziosita` di queste opere le aliena comunque la simpatia del pubblico.

Negli anni '80 la sua attivita` si dirada sensibilmente. Melodicamente affine a Court And Spark, squisitamente arrangiato alla Hejira, con testi piu` misurati e sinceri, caldi e profondi, anche se ruotano attorno ai soliti temi (ansia amorosa, le paure di una donna sola che invecchia), Wild Things Run Fast (Geffen, 1982) si situa a meta` strada, in un piacevole entertainment intellettuale (Be Cool, You Dream Flat Tires, Love), che solo saltuariamente sa toccare corde poetiche (come in Chinese Cafe`).

Dog Eat Dog (1985) e` il suo album piu` commerciale, con arrangiamenti elettronici e temi d'attualita'. Mitchell ammette la sua anima di yuppie, di animale salottiero, assume uno staff di tecnologi, adotta uno stile di canto da graffiante vocalist "vissuta", e scende in pista: il funk alienato di Fiction, il sinfonismo e le dissonanze agghiaccianti di Three Great Stimulants, l'etno-disco di Shiny Toys, il soul sentimentale e heavy-metal di Good Friends sono sottesi da un clima sinistro di suspense e di catastrofe incombente, nella linea dei Peter Gabriel e delle Kate Bush. Dog Eat Dog e Impossible Dreamer fungono da ponte con il suo stile classico.

Il cambiamento e` clamoroso, ma non sorprendente. Il pudore delle favole morali di un tempo rivela tutto il suo anacronismo nell'atteggiamento freddo e disincantato con cui Mitchell osserva oggi il mondo reale, le tragedie politiche, le nevrosi urbane, il potere dei media, il consumismo, i disastri ecologici, le carestie, e gli altri mille mali del secolo. La donna Mitchell si e` svegliata all'improvviso per rendersi conto che, mentre lei piangeva i suoi fallimenti amorosi, il mondo subiva tragedie ben piu` gravi. I tradimenti e gli oltraggi di cui cantava nei suoi dischi erano nulla in confronto a cio` che stava accadendo nel mondo. Aristocraticamente chiusa nel suo dolore, Mitchell non se n'era mai accorta. Il suo nuovo didatticismo suona comunque ipocrita e fuori luogo, sempre troppo astratto per essere sinceramente populista.

Chalk Marks In The Rain (1988) mette a fuoco questo nuovo stile di arrangiamento e lo riporta verso la sensibilita` del periodo folk, con risultati avvincenti in My Secret Place, The Beat of Black Wings, The Reoccuring Dream, Dancin Clown (con Billy Idol) e Snakes And Ladders, e una sfilata di ospiti d'eccezione, da Willie Nelson a Peter Gabriel.

Night Ride Home (Geffen, 1991) finds Mitchell in a soulful mood, boasting a voice that has rarely been so warm and elastic. The humble overture of Night Ride Home sets the "domestic" tone. A couple of intruiguing meditations like Passion Play, with hypnotic guitar work, and Nothing Can Be Done, almost a neurotic version of Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and the harrowing, autobiographical account of sexual abuse of Cherokee Louise, take a few chances, but mostly Mitchell plays it safe with mellow tunes wrapped in charming arrangements such as Windfall and The Only Joy In Town. Of the two major work-outs, Slouching Towards Bethlehem is haunted by syncopated percussions, distant echoes and dancing guitar, while Come in From the Cold rolls gently in a soundscape of Enya-esque vocal effects and droning instruments. Mitchell is still faithful to her classic style (by the erratic standards of her colleagues), but seems to have re-discovered the power of melody and wed it to a more passionate perception of life. She has never sounded so "black" as in the closing Two Grey Rooms, one of her most challenging vocal exercises. This is easily her best album since Hejira.

Turbulent Indigo (Reprise, 1994), which almost stands as a sociopolitical concept album, is a weaker album, despite the fact that the arrangements are among the most sophisticated of her career. Turbulent Indigo is to Night Ride Home what Court And Spark was to Blue. The overall feeling is one of a priestess lecturing people from her pedestal. Where Night Ride Home was pure, palpable emotion, Turbulent Indigo is condescending attitude. That said, How Do You Stop is one of her simplest and most effective melodies, and she continues to take vocal chances in Last Chance Lost, another of her "black" songs (songs permeated by the feeling of black music). The jazz-rock instrumental wrapping is particularly charming in Sunny Sunday, that could have fit on Van Morrison's Moondance, and the sonic choreography is chillingly suspenseful in Sex Kills. But the heavy atmospheres of Turbulent Indigo, Borderline, The Magdelaine Laundries are more about ideas than music. The peak of pathos is reached at the end, with the lengthy The Sire Of Sorrow, featuring Wayne Shorter on sax, that reenacts the magic of her inner travelogues.

Unfortunately, Taming the Tiger (Reprise, 1998) was a mediocre collection, the Wild Things Run Fast of this phase.

Both Sides Now (Reprise, 2000) is an album of orchestral ballads, mostly jazz and pop covers.

In august 2000, Mitchell held the first retrospective of her paintings.

Travelogue (Nonesuch, 2002) is a two-disc anthology.

(Translated by Giovanni Radaelli)

Night Ride Home (Geffen, 1991) contiene due grandi brani (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Come in From the Cold), un paio di intriganti meditazioni (Passion Play, Nothing Can Be Done) e Cherokee Louise, uno straziante ed autobiografico resoconto di abusi sessuali. Mitchell è incredibilmente fedele al proprio stile classico (soprattutto rispetto agli standard delle sue colleghe) e sembra aver riscoperto il potere della melodia. E’ senza dubbio il suo miglior disco dai tempi di Hejira.

Turbulent Indigo (Reprise, 1994), che si propone quasi come un concept album sociopolitico, è molto più debole del suo predecessore. L’album dà l’impressione di essere una predica alla gente dall’alto d un piedistallo, e molto raramente Joni Mitchell riesce a comunicare emozioni oltre che idee (The Magdelaine Laundries, Borderline). L’unica canzone che esce da questo discorso è la lunga The Sire Of Sorrow, nella quale compare Wayne Shorter, e che rappresenta una delle sue migliori canzoni di sempre.

Taming the Tiger (Reprise, 1998) è la sua peggiore collezione dai tempi di Wild Things Run Fast.

Both Sides Now (Reprise, 2000) contiene ballade orchestrali, per lo più cover jazz e pop.

Nell’agosto del 2000, Joni Mitchell ha realizzato la sua prima retrospettiva di dipinti.

Travelogue (Nonesuch, 2002) è un’antologia di due dischi.

Coming almost a decade after the last studio album of original material, Shine (2007) proved that Mitchell had lost her inspiration. She had become the easy-listening muse (the instrumental overture One Week Last Summer, the laid-back Shine) of which she had been the antithesis in her heydays. Her vocals are opaque at best (certainly not suited for this kind of ballads) and her lyrics are so predictable that at times she sounds like the stereotypical grandmother nagging at everything new in society. Night of the Iguana displays the class of the consummate storyteller (and of a brainy guitar player), but it's the exception, not the rule. (Translation by/ Tradotto da Tobia D'Onofrio)

A distanza di quasi un decennio dall’ultimo album in studio contenente materiale originale, Shine (2007) dimostra come la Mitchell abbia perso l’ispirazione. Divenuta la musa dell’easy-listening (con l’overture strumentale One Week Last Summer e con l’andamento rilassato di Shine), un genere del quale aveva rappresentato l’antitesi all’apice della sua carriera, il suo cantato in questo album, anche nei momenti migliori, rimane oscuro ed opaco (sicuramente non si adatta a questo genere di ballate) ed i suoi testi sono così scontati che a tratti la fanno apparire come lo stereotipo di una nonna che brontola davanti a tutto ciò che c’è di nuovo in società. Night of the Iguana mostra la classe della perfetta cantautrice (e della chitarrista intelligente); peccato che sia soltanto un eccezione, piuttosto che la regola.

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