My Favourite Albums of All Time… Well, today anyways!

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Firstly a proviso: This is my list, so it almost certainly won’t match with anyone else.

Secondly, I’m English so this maybe a bit Anglocentric, so apologies there too. Actually, looking at it again there’s only two British bands in my list, so not guilty!

I’m also no spring chicken, so my picks tend to fall in my formative years during the late 60s and 70s — when the music was better, right?

Coming in at number 5:Dark Side of the Moon‘ Pink Floyd – EMI 1973
This had to make my top 5. Everything from the concept, production, musicianship, lyrics… is top notch.

Coming in at number 4:Bridge Over Troubled Water‘ Simon & Garfunkel – Sony 1969. A wonderful collection of songs that have stood the test of the last 50 years.

Coming in at number 3:Aja‘ Steely Dan – MCA 1977. This is not actually my favourite album by this band now. This maybe partly due to the fact it got ‘played to death’ whilst I was at college. Nevertheless, head ruling heart, I have to acknowledge the sheer painstaking craftsmanship that has gone into this, producing something almost peerless; intellectual yet accessible; sophisticated but easy on the ear.

Coming in at number 2: Blue‘ Joni Mitchell – Reprise 1971. Again, this is probably not my favourite of Joni’s repertoire these days. But the songwriting is just wonderful, heart on sleeve stuff, so painful at times, but always simply beautiful. The best of a singer songwriter at their peak.

And finally, coming in at number 1:Revolver‘ The Beatles – EMI 1966. Ok, I know — what about ‘Sgt. Peppers..’? I just think this is better. So much variety in one album, fantastic songs which are very short and wonderfully produced. The Beatles at their peak in my opinion, at the turning point of their first era of predominantly love songs, looking towards the future of experimentation… and so influential: ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ anyone?

Copyright Francis Barker 2020

Joni Mitchell / Buffy Sainte-Marie : The Circle Game

from Oannes Songs Of Childhood Nostalgia #2 Η σύνθεση της Joni Mitchell ηχογραφήθηκε πρώτα από την Buffy Sainte-Marie για το άλμπουμ της Fire & Fleet…

Joni Mitchell / Buffy Sainte-Marie : The Circle Game

2020 ALBUM DRAFT- ROUND 4 PICK 1- INTROGROOVE SELECTS- JONI MITCHELL- BLUE — slicethelife (Reblog)

2020 Album Draft- Round 4- Pick 1- Introgroove selects- Joni Mitchell- Blue Introgroove’s blog can be found at – https://introgroove.com/ Judge: “Introgroove, you are accused of musical acculturation in the first degree. How do you plead?” Me: “Guilty as charged…” We’re now into the fourth round, and I realize I could fill my top 50 […]

via 2020 ALBUM DRAFT- ROUND 4 PICK 1- INTROGROOVE SELECTS- JONI MITCHELL- BLUE — slicethelife

2020 ALBUM DRAFT: ROUND 3: PICK 2: APHORISTICAL SELECTS JONI MITCHELL: COURT AND SPARK — reblog from slicethelife

University was a great time for learning about new music. I studied in a bigger city with better record shops, and I had a part-time job and a bigger record buying budget. I found lots of favourite records in second hand bins, bargain bins, and most especially second hand bargain bins. Of all the additions […]

via 2020 ALBUM DRAFT: ROUND 3: PICK 2: APHORISTICAL SELECTS JONI MITCHELL: COURT AND SPARK — slicethelife

Album Review: ‘For The Roses’ Joni Mitchell – A Sleeper Masterpiece

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Any album which followed Joni Mitchell’s groundbreaking 1971 album ‘Blue’, still considered to be her best by many, would have difficulty in competing with such brilliant, heartfelt songs and musicianship.

Predictably, Mitchell’s 1972 release of ‘For The Roses’ (Asylum), did indeed seem to underwhelm by comparison. Even the title of the album does not exactly inspire one as much as the emphatic ‘Blue’, unless you happened to be a gardener or a seeker of some bucolic escape. Nevertheless, I have to say I find this album something of a sleeper.

Unfair Comparisons

I, like many, first became aware of Joni Mitchell with songs like ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, songs which made you stop, listen and take notice. Then along came ‘Blue’ and the plaudits, rightly, went bananas. Then, at least to me at the time, a youngster barely in his teens, there seemed to be a bit of a lull. Suddenly it was 1974 and the wondrous ‘Court and Spark’ was released, another groundbreaking collections of songs. Somewhere in the middle of all that came ‘For The Roses’. It has only been over the last fifteen years or so that I have come to appreciate how good this album is.

And it turns out the album’s name and character did indeed indicate the singer songwriter’s partial retreat from the hurly burly of superstar life. So here are songs perhaps less intense than ‘Blue’, but reflective of a different inner life, the beginning of her more observational, anecdotal story telling songs which have become so much a trademark of her later career.

Retreat

The opening track ‘Banquet’ sets the tone firmly, yet gently, indicating her retreat from all the pandemonium, stepping down towards the shoreline and taking a wider philosophical look at life and all its absurdities. Here too I can sense the true beginning of her more jazz-folk inspired trajectory, followed up in the next acoustic guitar driven track, ‘Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire’.

If the first two tracks evoke a certain subjective melancholy, track three, the more upbeat ‘Barangril’, really brings out Mitchell’s great gift of taking an everyday snippet of daily life and turning it into a timeless masterpiece of modern Americana.

‘Lesson in Survival’ returns to the reflective melancholy, but beautifully so. Few songwriters, one would imagine, have ever been so well read. The wish for escape is overpowering. ‘Let the Wind Carry Me’ continues with the theme, but gives us more than a glimpse of parental influences, how they seem to us as we age when we realise Mum and Dad were not perfect either. I love the little jazzy flourishes with the voices and wind instruments in this song, something she would continue to perfect in later albums. In this song they evoke the whistles of steamers.

Wild Canadian Expanse

It has been said before (probably by me previously too) that Russian composers like Rachmaninov can’t help but sound like the vastness of the Russian Steppes. I think the same goes for more contemporary Canadian composers too, particularly Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. In ‘Let the Wind Carry Me’ I can hear the vast open plains of central Canada where she was brought up and also the equally wide Pacific Ocean off California.

‘For the Roses’, the title track, is an understated guitar song of exquisite guitar work and minimal arrangement, critiquing the lifestyle she has become accustomed to and which she is now eschewing. ‘See You Sometime’ is more straightforward, reflecting on former loves, their lifestyles, in a major key, leaving open the possibility of staying friends.

Transition Period

‘Electricity’ is a beautiful guitar track, spanning this transition period. ‘You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio’ might also have appeared on an earlier album, but served the purpose of being a catchy hit single from this album.

‘Blonde in the Bleachers’ definitely looks forward, another anecdotal snippet finding meaning: It transforms beautifully in the middle to a more soft rock number with sophistication. ‘Woman of Heart of Mind’ really does sound to me like it was composed a year or so prior to the album’s release – it is, nevertheless, beautiful and understated.

The final track, Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig’s tune)’, is probably the most sophisticated piano based track on the album, Joni leaving us typically with a philosophical view based on much reflection. The arrangement of wind and strings is also tasteful.

Overall, this is still one of my ‘go to’ albums. It helps me relax and reflect, probably the desire of the composer at this particular juncture in her life. It is generally understated and certainly not her best offering – yet it is still a great album in my view.

copyright Francis Barker 2020

Album Review: ‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns’, Joni Mitchell 1975

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Choosing a favourite Joni Mitchell album is a bit like choosing my favourite chocolate.

I suppose I could pin it down a few: ‘For The Roses’, ‘Court And Spark’, ‘Hejira’, ‘Turbulent Indigo’…

But I’m plumping for the 1975 release of ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ (Asylum). I think it received somewhat mixed reviews on release and to me it marks her final ‘departure’ from the folk scene, which she had been threatening to leave on her previous two albums.

More Jazz

‘Hissing’ is more jazz oriented than before, softly sophisticated and it seems to be this which attracted some of the more less favourable reviews.

For a start it’s varied. The first track, ‘In France They Kiss on Main Street’, sounds as if it could have been included on ‘Court and Spark’, her 1974 album. It moves along nicely, catchy, with a great hook involving a bit of ‘rocking and rolling’. Larry Carlton’s lead guitar work is quite superb, as usual.

Juxtapositions

‘The Jungle Line’, ‘Edith and the Kingpin’, juxtapose quite alarmingly. The former was quite radical at the time for its instrumentation and composition, though it’s not often seen as a favourite.

‘Edith’, on the other hand, is one her best, a juxtaposition in itself, for me. Beautifully written, performed and produced, it’s soft jazz but with a story line that’s actually anything but soft.

Beautiful

At the end of the song, when she sings about the two protagonists who dare not look away, intrigue, crime and sleaze truly never sounded so beautiful. Carlton’s guitar work is wonderful, too, gentle and precise, just enough to accent the song.

Another favourite, ‘Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow’, contains some of her best story telling, character forming lyrics. I’m taken to heady, intellectual parties somewhere in mid 70s California, full of ‘holier than thou’ characters, tipsy on German wine and other stuff.

Melting Glamour

‘Shades of Scarlett Conquering’ strongly evokes, over another jazzy theme, a Southern Belle whose sensibilities have no place in a changing, fracturing world, where the glamour seems to melt away the more you grasp at it.

The title track itself is that rare item, a co-written song. Here too, we can feel the easy, yet slightly disturbing direction of life in California at the time, drowning in its materialism.

‘The Boho Dance’ is a reflective, piano dominated piece, with lovely a lovely horn section. It leads nicely into ‘Harry’s House-Centrepiece’, another shot at the materialistic world of big business and its victims, the men and women sated on consumption and luxury, whose lives are empty.

Atmospheric

‘Sweet Bird’ seems to give a hint of what’s to come the following year, with ‘Hejira’. Joni’s very distinctive guitar playing is at its best here in an atmospheric and reflective number.

‘Shadows and Light’ is perfect to end the album, a gospel sounding, philosophical song. Mostly sung a capella, a synthesiser track backing it up, this is a beautiful song and quite set apart from the rest of the album.

To conclude, I feel this album marks Joni Mitchell’s full maturity as a performer and songwriter. It’s varied, more jazz influenced and if there’s a theme, I think it’s the general disillusionment with America life at the time, a theme which was being picked up by other other artists at this time – but they never sounded this beautiful.

copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019

 

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