Joni Mitchell

Reprise, 1971

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


When Rolling Stone came out with its second or third incarnation of the “Best Albums of All Time,” much fuss was raised when the highest position for a female solo artist was 30. That honor was given to Joni Mitchell’s Blue, but it was a great pick inasmuch as the album is one of the starting points of the modern female singer/songwriter movement.

When it comes to discovering female singer/songwriters, I have worked in reverse. I started with Tori Amos and eventually amassed a healthy collection of PJ Harvey, Lucinda Williams, Liz Phair and Aimee Mann. But it wasn’t until 2002 when I was given my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Blue as a graduation gift that I had any Joni Mitchell in my collection.

I would like to say listening to Blue transfixed me and took me to another world the first time, but that didn't quite happen -- not because of the lack of quality but because you feel you’ve heard this every day. It's like listening to Led Zeppelin for the first time after listening to heavy metal for a decade or so. But then you realize that Zep and Joni wrote the book on their respective genres; in particular, Mitchell's influence is heard in the folksy background music of independent bookstores to lame, live Earth Day concerts on college campuses to the countless pale imitators of her style. It’s hard to listen to the original for the first time with fresh ears. Unless you read the lyrics.

“Everybody’s saying that hell’s the hippest way to go / Well, I don’t think so / But I’m gonna take a look around it though / Blue, I love you,” Joni Mitchell sings on the title track. The lyric came as the ‘70s was in its infancy, nursing the wounds of Martin Luther King’s assassination, the death of the hippie movement and the ascent of Nixon during the height of the Vietnam War.

Most of the tracks on Blue are just Joni Mitchell and the piano. The cover perfectly reflects the mood of the album: it’s like you’re peering into someone’s home and seeing someone on the verge of tears. Mitchell’s warbly vocals may be off-putting to those who are more accustomed to Bjork or Tori Amos-style vocals, but the vulnerability of these ten songs packs an emotional wallop.

It could be because of the intensity, but Blue has been relatively untouched by commercial radio and consequently many listeners won't recognize any of these songs save for “This Flight Tonight,” which Nazareth covered in a hit version later in the decade. But much like the same way Mitchell approached Blue, the best way to listen to the album is full immersion, forgetting all of the great and not-so-great imitators that Mitchell’s work has spawned.

Not only a landmark for the singer/songwriter genre, Blue is a landmark album whose impact can be heard in everything from the Dixie Chicks to Outkast. Well worth your time.

Rating: A

User Rating: A-


© 2006 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Reprise, and is used for informational purposes only.