A Tribute to Joni Mitchell

April 27, 2007


Despite the fact that Mark Carlson told me that of his class of 30 students, only 2 had heard of her, I am happy to recommend a terrific new compilation of covers of Joni Mitchell songs just released on Nonesuch (3 cheers for Bob Hurwitz). It is not a sing-around-the campfire love fest of old Joni songs. Many of the artists chose rarely heard numbers to revisit. Some of these songs were formerly released on other CDs, but many are new, and really worth buying.

Sufjan Stevens Mariachizes “Free Man in Paris” with his cheery and bubbly voice, making the song his own. Björk delivers an eerily chilling treatment of “The Bojo Dance. Caetano Veloso lights a doobie and floats to the Caribbean with “Dreamland” and I swear he sounds an awful lot like David Byrne. Brad Mehldau offers a gorgeous piano solo, evoking Keith Jarrett and Fred Hersch in his “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow.” It was amazing to hear Cassandra Wilson channeling Joni’s unique amplitude modulation type vibrato and phrasing in “For the Roses.” Prince reaches high high high into his register to turn “A Case of You” into a near soft-gospel prayer. Like Wilson, Sarah McLachlan respects Joni’s original providing multi-layered vocals (all-Sarah) in a devastating revisit of “Blue.” One of the amazing numbers, Annie Lenox’s “Ladies of the Canyon” starts with an 80s synth vamp that grows into a thrilling world-music meets the 60s accompaniment. Emmylou Harris converts “The Magdalena Laundries” back into the folk-country song that lurked behind Joni’s original jazzy version. Elvis Costello sings “Edith and Kingpin” accompanied by a brilliant Ornette Coleman-style cool jazz ensemble. The album ends with the better and better k.d. lang who covers “Help Me” with the help of her old collaborator, Ben Mink.

Whether you are looking for a new Joni album (stop waiting, she has retired), or want to rediscover some new angles on songs you know and don’t, or are looking for an album to orchestrate your life this spring, “A Tribute to Joni Mitchell” will likely please many. I love it.

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rogerbourland.com » Blog Archive » PK’s questions
April 29, 2007 at 8:03 pm

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Paul April 27, 2007 at 8:13 am

Of all the figures in popular music of the second half of the 20th century, only Joni Mitchell stands out, to me, as the true artist. Always searching, and usually succeeding, in expressing what was inside she never much cared about rock-star popularity. When all the others have faded away, people will remember her music.

Brad Wood April 28, 2007 at 11:22 am

Looking forward to this Roger—thanks for the tip!

Roger Bourland April 28, 2007 at 12:33 pm

Paul: I’m with you — Joni needs to be added to the list of great 20th century composers

PK April 29, 2007 at 2:58 pm

I am, also, a secret lover of Ms Mitchell (and get quite jealous of the men she sings of sometimes). But this discussion raises some questions in me, probably often discussed, but I wasn’t listening that time 🙂

1) What IS the difference between “song writing” and “composing”? Are they the same act to be lumped together as one?

2) (related) How does the writing of text (not often associated with “composers”) change the process, and as can be asked about the visuals in film music, does the text dominate the music?

3) Why do so many artists have periods of such great and simple strength (so often in youth) that diffuses in later years (although the theoretical constructs may become greater)? Not a great question for those of us north of the mid-point, but interesting never the less.

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