Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Joni Roundtable

Jim: As promised in the community newsletters, before the summer ended we would do a musical roundtable on Joni Mitchell. She's had a very complex career and we all wanted to be able to participate face to face so we had to wait until everyone was at C.I.'s. Participating are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava, and me, Jim; Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man; C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review; Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills); Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix; Mike of Mikey Likes It!; Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz); Ruth of Ruth's Report; Trina of Trina's Kitchen; Wally of The Daily Jot; Marcia of SICKOFITRDLZ; Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends; Isaiah of The World Today Just Nuts and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub. Before we get into the roundtable proper, Mike had something he wanted to note.

Mike: C.I. actually included it in an Iraq snapshot last week but Joni Mitchell is releasing a boxed set this November. This is from her website, "For a new boxed set due out this November, Joni would like to invite the community to send in a statement of why they enjoy her music. It can be one sentence or a short paragraph and the best will be chosen for the liner notes for the project. It can be a personal experience with the music or why in general you like it. Joni feels it might be more interesting to hear from the people who truly like the music rather than from a critic or PR person. Submit your liner notes here." So any Joni fans breezing through that don't plan to read the full roundtable have that right at the start.

Joni Mitchell

Jim: Very good. Kat you reviewed Joni's Shine in October of 2007, gave it a rave, and you've spoken of what a great gift it was for you to be able to write that review.

Kat: It really was because it became fashionable to beat Joni Mitchell up in the late seventies and, after that, you beat her up if she strayed from romantic songs and applauded her if she offered up the songs that you demanded. That was the treatment she faced repeatedly. And that treatment largely came from men as well as from male identifying women. Joni had her male defenders and a lot more female defenders but reviewing Shine was really important to me because it was a chance to wade in and offer a rebuke of the boys club mentality that only wanted Joni if she would play waif and weak. Joni's a very gifted performer and songwriter and she's that on her own terms, not on the terms anyone tries to dictate to her.

Jim: Alright Ruth's going to give us an overview.

Ruth: I was picked because I knew of Joni as the songwriter. Though most music lovers today of all ages are aware of Judy Collins, Tom Rush is a name they're less familiar with. Tom Rush was someone my friend Treva was crazy for and, in our college days, if Tom was playing, we were there. Tom was, and I'm sure is, a very talented performer. He was singing "Urge for Going" and, at some point, Treva found out it was by Joni Mitchell. It was one of those things, those in passing, let's have a drink, conversations. So that was probably 1966 or 1967. And in 1968, The Circle Game comes out, which is the finest Tom Rush album, in my opinion, and "Urge for Going" is on it. It's a really important song that sums up wanderlust and the strings that can tie us down so you can picture it being very big in club circles in the mid-to-late sixties. It really was a summation for so many of us. And you've got the title track of Tom Rush's album written by Joni as well, "The Circle Game." And also "Tin Angel." The bulk of the songs, as I remember it, were written by Joni, Jackson Browne or James Taylor. Plus Tom's own classic "No Regrets." And it was Tom's album -- and a beautiful one -- but it really was an announcement of this new significant artist: Joni Mitchell. Tom's album came out near Hanukkah and I must have talked everyone's ear off about "The Circle Game" and the album because I ended up getting, from my brother, Joni Mitchell's first album which had come out earlier that year, Song to a Seagull. And "I Had A King" and "Cactus Tree" and "Night In The City" were wonderful but it was a different sound. On Clouds, Joni's sound would become her own. That's her 1969 album which contains "Both Sides Now" -- made famous by Judy Collins' cover version which was a hit. This first album was promising but Clouds was a huge step forward in terms of her sound. And the huge step from Song To A Seagull to Clouds would be completely forgotten as, one after the other, Joni's next albums made such huge strides that, in retrospect, so much of what she'd already achieved seemed of less value. She's one of the strongest songwriters contemporary music has had. For many, she's the waif-like blond, strumming the guitar and singing in that high soprano voice. For many, that phase is the one they've tried to freeze her in.

Jim: Okay, we're going to be discussing our favorite Joni albums. The rule is that if someone else picks your favorite, you contribute then. We're very aware that there will be a high chance that several will pick the same album. C.I. usually speaks at the end of these things but asked to go first. I'm assuming to pick Blue.

C.I.: You assume wrong. My favorite Joni album is Dog Eat Dog. A year before, due to a lazy and biased media, Ronald Reagan had been re-elected. It was appalling. And on the left you had a lot of meekness and a lot of appeasement. Along comes Joni with Dog Eat Dog and that is an important album. I had an advance copy and was ignoring it because she works with Thomas Dobly -- of "She Blinded Me With Science" fame -- and Neil Young's own synthesizer experiments that decade had left me less than satisfied. So it was sitting there unlistened to and then a friend called in a panic because he'd landed an interview with Joni -- reporters always seem to go nuts when Joni agrees to speak to them -- and he wanted some tips on what sort of topics would go over best. So I tossed off five and then he asked about the new album which was going to be the spine of the interview. He hadn't heard it yet, Geffen was getting a copy to him. So I hung up with a promise to call back and listened and it was just amazing. I called him back within the hour and played key portions over the phone then went back to listening solo. I don't think this album has ever been appreciated for its bravery. When Joni nails a human emotion in a song everyone loves, we all speak of her bravery. But it took a lot of bravery for Joni to do Dog Eat Dog. The media loved Reagan and refused to recognize either his crimes -- they'd be exposed shortly -- or the fact that everyone didn't love Ronnie. And here came Joni with her critique of the Reagan era. She showed such passion and such bravery. "Lucky Girl" is the sort of song people expected from her and they could accept "Good Friends." But "The Three Great Stimulants," "Tax Free," "Fiction" and the title track were just too much for some who didn't want Joni angry. If Joni had climbed up on the cross and let them hammer nails in, they would've written rave reviews: "Joni suffers yet again! And so beautifully!" But when she used her tremendous skills and talents to perfectly capture the time she was living in, they just didn't want to know. The album's critique of modern times still applies. "Shiny Toys" could have been written yesterday. The lyrics are so apt. But, to stay with that song, it's not just the lyrics and the passion with which she's singing and playing, it's also her fun with plosives. This is the woman who wrote "they Paved Paradise and PuT uP a Parking loT" which is fun to sing because of the plosives. She does something very similar with "Shiny Toys" -- there's just such joy in singing "hate to have to put your toys away." From singing the "h"s just right and that "t"s -- you've got this breath you really need for the "h"s and this attack coming from the "t"s. Those moments are just amazing. "Impossible Dreamer" is probably the best song inspired by John Lennon after he had passed away. And it's appropriate for it to appear on this album because Reaganism really was about the death of John Lennon, it was about the death of all things that we collectively held to be good and for the public good. Joni's album is probably one of the top ten best of the 1980s and it is still, all this time later, so little appreciated. But if Joni hadn't released that, if she hadn't written these songs, she wouldn't be recording today. She would have stopped recording. You can't have those songs in you and not let them out unless you're willing to kill your muse. They're too passionately felt. And it's really amazing how, even to this day, Dog Eat Dog is rejected by so many when it is such a strong work of art and as emotionally honest as Blue. Joni's not hiding anything, she's not holding anything back. And the answer to all of this garbage shoved off on us by the government is music, is dancing, is friends. It's Joni's message that she's always believed in. And yet to read the reviews in real time, it was to see this sort of, "What the hell's she talking about?" and this "Who is this woman? This isn't the Joni we love!" It is the Joni you love if you love her for her capacity to explore, to be honest and to create. In the last four years especially, not a week has gone by when I haven't caught myself singing one of the songs -- usually more than one -- from this album to myself. I'll be thinking about something, maybe wondering what to say to the group we're speaking to, or maybe at the computer trying to write an entry and I'll just catch myself with something like, "I picked the morning paper off the floor, It was full of other people's little wars . . ." Dog Eat Dog is amazing and, if it was Neil's album, you better believe every rock critic in the world would have hailed it upon release and non-stop since.

Jim: We're all kind of blown away because I don't think we'd planned to go that in depth. But last summer, there was a guy, a musician, who was ranking on the album here and you came up behind him and just let him have it so I'm not surprised.

C.I.: Yeah, he was trashing it and saying something like "Synth music." Well, if you're speaking of the Reagan era in the Reagan era, you're going to be using synths. And it's not like Joni was the only one who used them. They're all over "All She Wants To Do Is Dance." Or Glenn [Frey]'s stuff or anyone in that period. But it's only Joni that must stay away from the synths? "I picked the morning paper" is from "Three Great Stimulants" and I doubt Joni would have found that rhythm if that song had been acoustic guitar based. It was the same as her forays into jazz, she's creating new colors and tones with the sounds she's using.

Jim: Okay. Elaine told me I could call on her at any point because she was going to pick something that she doubted anyone else would. Watch it be Dog Eat Dog. Elaine?

Elaine: No, but I do love that album and agree with everything C.I. said. Mine is For The Roses, from 1972. And it's my favorite due to placement issues. Joni frequently has the wanderlust, as Ruth pointed out, and that's fine and I enjoy those but For The Roses has a sense of rootedness that I really enjoy. It's there in the questions in "See You Sometime" -- where Joni's location is not in question but she's wondering about someone else -- and it's there in the various locales she describes plus it's there in "Let The Wind Carry Me" when the parents who up. It's throughout the album and it's her most rooted persona in the songs and, with the exception of "You Turn Me On I'm A Radio," it's so piano based and so richly textured. And lyrically it never fails to blow me away, all these years later, with lyrics like:

Some turn to Jesus
And some turn to heroin
Some turn to rambling round
Looking for a clean sky
And a drinking stream
Some watch the paint peel off
Some watch their kids grow up
Some watch their stocks and bonds
Waiting for that big deal American Dream

Elaine (Con't): That's from "Banquet," the opening track. Ruth was talking about how, starting with Clouds, Joni is just making these huge strides with each album and how, in retrospect, some of those strides aren't recognized. I think that's especially true of this album because it's sandwiched between Blue and Court & Spark.

Ann: That was going to be my pick as well, For The Roses. I just started listening to it last week. There's a song C.I. always quotes, "Let The Wind Carry Me." I'll include the full verse:

Sometimes I get that feeling
And I want to settle
And raise a child up with somebody
I get that strong longing
And I want to settle
And raise a child up with somebody
But it passes like the summer
I'm a wild seed again
Let the wind carry me

Ann (Con't): I knew the quote but note the song. The quote pops up here often and often in "Iraq snapshots" and elsewhere at The Common Ills, "But it passes like the summer, I'm a wild seed again, Let the wind carry me." And over time, I've created my own sound scape to those lines. But with us all being together this past week, I was discovering all this wonderful music -- Jess, among others, is really a musical librarian and he turned me on to so much. But I wanted to know what album that song was on because I wanted to hear it. And C.I. put it on and went to that song first. I was apprehensive in the silence right before the song starts with this rhythm and counter-rhythm echoing and that captured my attention right away. Then the horn comes on and I'd already forgotten how I imagined the song would sound. So I've pretty much squirreld this CD away since Wednesday. Right now, if I were on an island and told I could only have one album, I would ask for this one. There's a choral quality to the singing that really moves me. And "Woman of Heart and Mind" is just such a beautiful song.

Jim: And to repeat, for listeners and participants, that's how we'll do it. If someone picks your favorite album, you can, like Ann did, jump in after and share your reasons. The thing I was really worried about with this roundtable is that we'd have Blue over and over. Blue's a great album and I'm sure at least one person will name it as their favorite but there's a lot more to Joni's accomplishments than that one album. I'm not sure who to go to next but since Ann just spoke, I'll toss to her husband Cedric.

Cedric: For me, the best Joni album is Taming The Tiger. That's her album from 1998. To me, every track on the album is perfection. In terms of songwriting, in terms of vocals, in terms of production. I love the pounding of "Lead Balloon" and I love how the more hesitant and sparse "Love Puts on a New Face" comes right before it and "No Apologies" follows it. "No Apologies" is one of the best songs Joni's ever written and I know that's saying something. But her top twenty songs would have to include this. And after this comes "Taming the Tiger" which is just such a great song and a fun song with it's "tiger, tiger" parts. I really love this. And by that point I'd fallen in love with every song and you keep waiting for the one that comes along and has you thinking, "Okay, that's not one I love." But it never happens. For eleven tracks, there's not a weak moment or a false note to be heard.

Jim: Has Ann heard this one?

Ann: No. I'm generally off in one room and Cedric in another when we play music. I'll play it in the bedroom or the kitchen. Cedric will usually be in the living room. That's not because we don't enjoy each other's music or listening together but Cedric brings home a lot of work and needs to spread that out for room so he'll generally use the coffee table. So he'll have music going on in there and I'll be elsewhere in the house. Except for Mingus, I wasn't even aware we had Joni in the house. That's one of her jazz albums and we listen to that together from time to time.

Cedric: Yes, like Ann explained, during the week, we're not generally listening to music together. At dinner, unless there's Iraq news actually being covered, we'll have music on. That's usually the Mingus album, Sade, Diana Ross live jazz album whose title I'm forgetting --

C.I.: Stolen Moments: The Lady Sings . . . Jazz & Blues.

Cedric: Thank you. And we'll mix in some Ella and some Benny Goodman. A lot of that on vinyl and stuff that was my father's. The Mingus album was my father's for example. Taming the Tiger is an album I really love and I'm realizing how little we play music for each other, Ann and I. But we both work and we both volunteer with our church. So we'll have to start playing music for each other when we get home.

Rebecca: Please, let it wait until after one year of marriage when you need to discover more things about each other! I'm joking. And jumping in because I will say Blue and am amazed it hasn't been named already. Blue. And it came out in 1971. Listening to it, you really appreciate Joni's amazing guitar work and understand why both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were blown away by her, she's one of the few women to receive critical praise for her playing. But I also wonder if people grasp that some of the strings she's playing are on the dulcimer? I wish she'd play the dulcimer on her next release for a song or two because she does it so beautifully on "California" and other songs. Blue is considered one of the strongest albums of the rock era and regularly scores highly on 'All Time Great' lists. It's considered to be highly autobiographical and, no offense to Joni, if that was the only reason to buy it, the album wouldn't have sold. By that I mean, Blue has millions of fans and they're fans without having to know Joni's personal life. If it was just pages from her diary, it wouldn't have sold. And, as she has pointed out, when people agree they tend to look at it as she's singing about humanity and when they disagree or she hits something too personal, they tend to say, "Oh, that's just her." It's a huge hit because it captures so much that so many can relate to. "River" is an amazing song and I really believe that when The Wonder Years used it for an episode in the eighties, as a Joni re-appreciation was taking part, they allowed and encouraged many people to discover her. That's partly because Joni disappears from rock radio when she makes her jazz foray and they really never let her back in the club. So you really do need a friend or some other outlet, a TV show in the case of The Wonder Years, to share Joni with others.

Ava: Blue would be mine as well. I'm trying to get some musical skills down these days. C.I.'s teaching me piano and Wally and C.I. are teaching me guitar. And one of the things they both said was to learn a song you love or you'll quit early on. So I asked for "River" for piano and for "This Flight Tonight" for guitar. I've got "River" down but am still working on "This Flight Tonight." "River" is just a beautiful song. The lyrics to be sure with the "It's coming on Christmas, they're cutting down trees," but the music is so beautiful and just, honestly, so much fun to play along with. The verses with their da-da-DAs and the chorus with its more graceful steps. And, of course, I defy anyone to not be blown away by "A Case Of You." I agree with Rebecca about the dulcimer, it very much adds another element to the album. And I also agree with her that people listening frequently hear the dulcimer and just assume Joni's playing guitar.

Jim: E-mails will come in asking, "Why not Jess?" In terms of guitar.

Ava: I don't think it's a good idea, in terms of our relationship, for me to learn guitar from Jess. Jess is of course highly talented. Also true, I see Jess most of the time only on the weekends. I'm not bored during that time. But Kat, Wally, C.I. and I are on the road most weeks talking about Iraq. Wally's always got his guitar and we can usually find a piano. On the road, it's very busy but there are also times when you just have time to kill. It makes more sense to learn on the road. And our e-mail address is

Jim: Thank you. I'll move over to Ava's better half, Jess.

Jess: I'm going to go with Chalk Mark On A Rainstorm. We were listening to that last week during the writing edition and that had been my pick. I hadn't heard it in some time and I was really amazed how much I still loved it. "Cool Water," a duet with Willie Nelson, really is a testament to Joni as a singer. With her songwriting gifts, it's really easy to forget how talented a singer she also is. "A Bird That Whistles" is just so beautiful and kind of a nod to the fans who've been on the long journey with her. "Lakota" is one of her political songs and its inclusion on the album is sort of like thumbing her nose at everyone who attacked Dog Eat Dog -- which would be my third favorite Joni album by the way. And "The Beat of Black Wings" and all these amazing songs. It's a very rich album and one of my favorites. It's also accessible not just for the richness but also for the appearance of Billy Idol, Willie Nelson, Peter Gabriel, Don Henley and Tom Petty among others.

Jim: It also has a richly textured cover. I honestly think that's the best cover to any Joni album. I'm surprised Jess picked that though. Jess, you grew up on Joni, right?

Jess: My parents were huge fans, yes.

Jim: So you know all the albums?

Jess: Yes and I pick Chalk Marks as my favorite. Sorry if that upsets you, Jim. Just one listen to "Number One" will do it for me.

Jim: Okay, well Jess also mentioned "The Beat Of Black Wings"and that's popped up in the "Iraq snapshots" all last week. Not Friday's however. Why?

C.I.: Why? There wasn't room it was too long. But it will continue to pop up when we're speaking of Danny Fitzsimons, the British contractor who apparently shot dead another British contractor and an Australian one while wounding an Iraqi. I think the song is apt and I also am aware that songs are known by how often they're mentioned. Take Bob Dylan whom most people can't stop quoting. Some of his finest early songs are forgotten today because people glom on 1965 and after. So we'll continue to include "The Beat Of Black Wings."

Jim: And that's something that we've done here from the start. Music pieces get a lot of positive e-mails and people are always glad to see them. And most of our longterm readers long ago noted that we mainly focus on women. The reason for that is that we're trying to provide things you won't get elsewhere and use our power wisely. So we've offered cuttings of Joni's lyrics or Carly Simon's lyrics and pieces on Stevie Nicks and Tina Turner and many others. [Ty note: Including the Mamas and the Papas and Carole King.] But that first weekend we worked on this site, we talked about that and how we didn't want to be pushing the exact same thing everyone else already did.

Dona: And we can always count on the sixty-plus, White male professor at some college to e-mail and whine about a music feature not being devoted to Dylan or even mentioning him. We're not in the mood. Laura Nyro, whom we've also written of -- and raided C.I.'s journal for that article when it turned out Ty and my research had been less than successful, has had more influence on me than most of the so-called rock gods. Ditto Rickie Lee Jones, Nina Simone, Carly Simon or Joni Mitchell. And of Joni's albums, my favorite is Court & Spark. That's her most commercially successful so I probably made the 'easy choice.' But it really is my favoirte. The title track opens the album and it's just such a beautiful song. And it's over so quickly. "People's Parties" and "The Same Situation" blend so well together, there's no break between them and there's also not a real break in theme. The latter is pretty much taking "People's Parties" from a focus on the entire room to a focus on just one person. This may or may not be a woman thing but it reminds me of the woman at the party who pulls you into the bedroom to cry about the guy who's there with another woman and you find yourself spending a good part of the party comforting your friend and getting her to a place where she can rejoin the party. "So I sent up my flare . . ." "Car On A Hill" is another highly relatable song. I will never forget being stood up on a Friday night my junior year in high school. I will never forget waiting and waiting for him to show and so aware that not only was I being stood up but my parents and my brother knew I was being stood up. And each time a car turned down our rode, I would think, "Okay, he's an hour -- or two -- late, but finally he's coming." It was never him. So when Joni sings, "Sitting up waiting for my sugar to show, I've been listening to the sirens and the radio, He said he'd be over three hours ago, I've been waiting for his car on the hill." And in case I wasn't clear, these are things I bring to the songs. That's Joni's gift. Creating songs that listeners can relate to and bring their own experiences to. I agree that she's wrongly pinned as an autobiographical songwriter. I don't think there's anything wrong with confessional songwriters but we have never been of the belief, check our 2005 archives, that Joni was a confessional songwriter. Carly, by contrast, clearly is. And Carly's a very talented one. But I love Court & Spark for what I bring to it and for what it reflects back to me.

Marcia: It's my favorite as well and for a number of reasons. Many of the reasons were outlined by Dona but I really love "Down To You." I love the chords, I love the melody and I love the lyrics. For me, "Down To You" is an example of the perfect song, where every element works and enhances. I love her voice, how it gets deeper, when she's talking about the meet up at "the pick up station," the bar, and how you have all these expectations or demands and then you give them up and settle. "Clutching the night to you like a fig leaf" is just such a beautiful turn of phrase. And the couple departs "to lay down an impression and your loneliness" only to "brush against a stranger and you both apologize" the next morning. I think it's a song most of us have lived at least once. I love the horns on "Car On The Hill." And "Raised On Robbery" is a wonderful song as well. I always think she should do a sequel, "Won The Lottery." But I fell in love with Court & Spark on cassette tape and, in those days, we listened to the whole album. Unless you wanted tape drop out. You couldn't just cue up your favorite track. So you'd listen to one side and then flip it over. And there aren't a lot of albums out there which are worth listening to in full. This one always was and when I switched over to CDs finally, probably 1997, I bought this with six other CDs on the same day.

Jim: Anyone else? Okay. I'll assume that's speaking to the diversity of taste and the diversity of Joni Mitchell's works that her two most applauded albums -- Blue and Court & Spark -- both resulted in two people picking each as their favorites. Ty, Trina, Mike, Isaiah, Betty, Wally and Stan still have to speak. Am I forgetting anyone?

Dona: You, of course, and Kat and Ruth.

Jim: Okay, how about we go to Ruth.

Ruth: I don't think anyone else is going to pick this one, Miles of Aisles. I don't like greatest hits or best ofs, but I do like live albums and this is a real treat because Joni's grown each year she's released albums and, by 1974, she had released six albums, so she had a huge amount of material to work with. She also drops the high-high soprano. What some called her "cold water sorprano." It's not really on the album. And I mention that because the kids loved this the best, my kids. Some of the other albums prior to Court & Spark, they really couldn't get into. But this one found her singing in a deeper voice, as she had on Court & Spark, and they really got into songs on it that their father and I had tried to turn them on to before. I think it's both a look back at where she's been and also a peak at where she's going. You really can't appreciate what comes in the next years if you're not on board with this album because the jazz accents become more pronounced here. I like best that she opens the songs up to explore them more. This is probably one of my all time favorite live albums and I'm a huge fan of live albums.

Jim: Stan?

Stan: As I've explained before, in college not all that long ago, I bought vinyl like crazy. The local head shop had it. That was really their cover, they dealt pot and more, but their pretend reason for being in business was vinyl. I think I was the only customer they had who actually bought vinyl. But one of the albums I got was Ladies of the Canyon. And I really love that. It's one where Joni uses that "cold water soprano" Ruth was referring to. That's a falsetto, isn't it?

C.I.: Yes, that's Joni using falsetto on those extremely high notes on the early albums. She herself speaks publicly of that.

Stan: And I like them. They really take the vocal up and soaring. She gets thin around the C note but can then thicken her voice to its normal strength. Smokey's got a great falsetto, Smokey Robinson and I would rank Joni's falsetto second only to Smokey. I love the album for the vocals and for the piano playing. But I especially love it because it's really a collection of short stories. The first track, "Morning Morgantown," had me thinking, "Oh, this is what the albums's about." But that's not the case. It's a series of short stories with some really interesting characters. "Rainy Night House" is one of my favorites but I love them all and, of course, "The Circle Game" is just an amazing song. I love how the music goes up and down. And I love "Willy" as well. And "Ladies of the Canyon" is brilliant. This is my favorite Joni album. It was released in 1970.

Jim: Ladies of the Canyon is also a favorite of Stevie Nicks' and Ladies of the Canyon includes a Trina, who has wum-pum beads, so let's go to our own Trina for her pick.

Trina: I'm going to say Shine because, for me, that is a pefect album. I was writing about it last week and I could really spend a week writing about that album. I really didn't expect Joni to do another album so just the fact that it was released was enough to excite me but it is an album that I'm still listening to. It's almost two years old now and I'm still getting so much joy from it. The "money, money" part on "This Place" is such a strong hook and it's not often that you get such a strong hook on a political song. And the title track really is gorgeous.

Jim: There's another person who ranks this as their favorite and I'll let them speak in a second but, Trina, you're going way back with Joni. You've been a Joni fan for years and several of your children are named for Joni songs, correct?

Trina: Yes. No offense to Bill or Hillary Clinton, but we weren't copying them. All of our kids were born before Bill was sworn in in 1993. I don't have permission to name most of them here but Mike won't care. He's named after "Michael from Mountains." Off Song To A Seagull. And he really loved that song as a kid. We have eight children, my husband and I, and all of their names did come from Joni songs. The first few, it wasn't planned. We just would be listening while I was pregnant and one of us would say, "If it's a boy/girl that's the name." And then it became our pattern. And with all my knowledge of Joni's previous albums and all my love for so many of them, I would still pick Shine as her best and my favorite. It really is a special and magical album. Who else picked it?

Kat: I did. I'd told Jim ahead of time that I'd probably be the only one not going with Blue or Court & Spark and mentioned that I thought her latest album was her finest. I think Trina captured it very well and I think what you're seeing with Shine is an artist whose comfortable with their colors and their brush strokes and is just able to capture so much with just the smallest of brush strokes, the most delicate of them. I really think Joni's entering into a period that rivals her Blue period. I hope she continues recording because Shine is not derivative, but it does demonstrate various techniques she's utilized. She's utilizing them in different ways and that's what's so exciting. She's grabbed all these elements throughout her career and toyed with them and experimented with them and now she's able to assemble them into this amazing and unique sound. "If I Had A Heart" and "Strong And Wrong" are among her strongest pieces.

Jim: Okay so that leaves us with Ty, Wally, Betty and Mike. And Isaiah! I just forgot him. So let's start with him.

Isaiah: I'll go with The Hissing of Summer Lawns and, since Prince isn't participating in this roundtable, I doubt anyone will be rushing to agree. This one is a challenging album for some, it came out in 1975 and it's not continuing the sound of Court & Spark. It's going with polyrhythms and offering more sketches and less use of the word "I" in the songs. "In France They Kiss on Main Street" is a really beautiful song and so is "Edith & The Kingpin" -- which Herbie Hancock and Tina Turner do a strong cover of on his River. It's really a different album, not just for Joni Mitchell, but for most artists. I really can't think of anyone else who would have dared to have tried this and the daring is part of the reason I love it. I love that she could have milked the Court & Spark audience for the next three albums by offering pale imitations but instead made this strong artistic shift. And there are so many rhythms in the songs. Any song on the album has more than one rhythm threading through it so I never get tired of this album. I can focus on the dominant one or find one of the others in the song.

Jim: Okay. I'm surprised by that pick for about ten seconds and then I think, "Of course he'd pick that." There are the themes right out there in front and then the songs have these other themes buried in them and that reminds me of your own comics so it is fitting that you would pick that. Betty, I have no idea what you will pick.

Betty: I'm going to go with Night Ride Home. That's one I listened to a great deal during my second pregnancy. It had been out for several years and I had my brother's copy. And I love that because there's so much joy. There's also, for me, a desire to see more than is actually there in a relationship. And I identified with that and still do. It was during my second pregnancy that I knew it was over. Yes, I would have a third child but I already knew. I would continue to try to make it work but it was over. And I'd listen to Joni sing the title track and wonder how I'd live without the magical evening she was describing because "love is gone" as she sings in "Down To You" on Court & Spark. And I would listen to that one song over and over and just wonder about it. And would program the CD player to go to "Come In From The Cold" next because that was where I was at: "All I ever wanted, was just to come in from the cold, come in, come in, come in from the cold." And I would look at my children's father and think, "Yeah who?" While listening to "Passion Play" -- "Who you gonna get to do the dirty work, when all the slaves are gone?" I really identified with that song. It was not a difficult pregnancy but the way I'm talking about it, I'm sure I'm giving another impression. It was just a moment, and I think we all have these, when you can so clearly see where you are in relation to where you want to be and where you are, really are, in your relationship. There is no disguise or anything hidden. And it can be a little scary or sad. Joni's Night Ride Home got me through that and it remains my favorite Joni album. And I love the tones, it has a beautiful tonal quality, a lot of blacks and blues, velvet tones.

Jim: And that is my favorite as well. I love it for different reasons. I find "Night Ride Home," for example, to be a very beautiful and hopeful song. I like the opening, "Once in a while, In a big blue moon, There comes a night like this, Like some surrealist, Invented this 4th of July, Night Ride Home." That's just such a powerful opening, I'm hooked right there. And I love the melody of "Ray's Dad's Cadillac." And "Cherokee Louise" is another powerful song. But 1991's Night Ride Home is my own favorite and the last point Betty was making about the tones probably is why. It's a night album, with glimmers of light from stars and this velvet blanket around it.

Ty: I'm going to go with glimmers but of bright colors. To me, that's Clouds, the 1969 album. To me, putting that CD on is like the commercial where you pop a Starburst. That never happens when you eat the candy. But I always feel like the sun's shining through a stained glass window when I listen to Clouds. "The Gallery" is probably my favorite song. And my favorite section is when she puts her voice in like an uplift, because the verses are kind of matter of fact and she then kind of turns the chorus into this huge blast of wind, and she sings, "'Lady, please love me now, I am dead, I am a saint, turn down your bed, I have no heart,' that's what you said. You said, 'I can be cruel, But let me be gentle with you'." And Ruth was talking about what a huge step it is, this album, from Joni's first one. It really is. That first one sounds a lot like Joni trying to sound a little like The Byrds and I'm sure that's due to David Crosby being in the studio but this is the album, Clouds, where Joni really announces her own sound and it's really a great sound. Even now, with all the people who have tried to copy her, Clouds still sounds just like Joni. I got this through BMG and it was actually their error. I had ordered a CD I'm too embarrassed to name. But that group was really big back then. And I ordered that CD and, for my grandmother, I ordered a Roberta Flack collection. So it comes in and I'm so thrilled because she'd been feeling really down -- my grandmother -- and I knew this would cheer her up. So I open it up and I see this other CD, Joni's, and I'm thinking, "Huh?" So I give my grandmother her CD and it does cheer her up and she's listening to the whole thing and explaining to me about her and my grandfather and about my father and about her brothers and sisters and every song on that CD is a memory for her. I am now stuck with Joni. I had to save up from chores and lunch money to get money orders to pay my BMG bills. But I can't send it back because I've opened the container it was sent in and I can't tape it back up because I ripped the cardboard apart out of excitement. Now we didn't have a Fex X store or any place where you bought mailing boxes. So I was stuck with the CD. And I told myself it was okay because Prince liked Joni and I was a big Prince fan. So that night, I put on my headphones, lay down in bed and play the disc and the first song is "Tin Angel" and it's Joni and her guitar. When she gets to "I found someone to love today," for me, that was the Joni moment. That's when I became a Joni fan. The first verse is well constructed but that "I found someone to love today" just took me by surprise and I sat up, turned on the light on the lamp on the bedside desk and pulled out the CD booklet to study the lyrics. Clouds was my first exposure to Joni and that may be why I see it as so powerful but it remains my all time favorite album by her.

Jim: So there's a really wide spectrum on what albums everyone would choose as their favorite. It's interesting to me what's being chosen and why. Wally?

Wally: For me, it's Hejira. That wasn't always my favorite. But when we're on the road, generally Kat's driving because she loves to drive. I usually grab the back seat and so does C.I. Ava's up front with Kat. I'll have my guitar and be tuning and playing and sometimes I'll slide it over to C.I. Now "Coyote" is a great song and one that immediately stood out on the album. But a lot of the tracks just drifted by me. It was only being on the road -- and Hejira is a road album -- and hearing C.I. sing the title track or "Refugee of the Road" that really had me absorbing the songs meanings. This is really a powerful album but, lyrically, it's a lot deeper than it may seem to some -- to me, for sure -- if you're not really hearing. And I love the bass lines and found a lot to enjoy about the album but it was only when C.I. was singing the songs and playing them on guitar that I really started hearing them. Joni's telling some very complex stories on this one. And Stan was talking about how Ladies From The Canyon is really a short story collection. I think that's true of Hejira as well and there are a few essays in here as well. It's a complex album.

Jim: And your favorite song from this 1976 album?

Wally: "Black Crow." That's an example of a song I liked but really didn't pay attention to until we were on the road. It's a really great song. And, yes, I forgot to say the year as you'd asked us all to do.

Jim: Which leaves us with Mike. What's it going to be?

Mike: 1994's Turbulent Indigo. I went ahead and had a pow-wow with my dad because he and Mom usually agree on music acts but not on which is the best album. So I knew he'd be asking her, after this goes up, "Why didn't you pick ___?" So I thought I'd call him and find out what he would pick. This was on my top three but in discussing and debating it with him, it became my number one pick. "Yvette In English" -- the song Joni and David Crosby wrote -- is an example of really wonderful guitar work. And "How Do You Stop" is a really catchy and gorgeous song. The background voices work really well on that track. But mainly it's the seamless quality, how all the songs work together to form one statement.

Jim: Which is?

Mike: Rape and abuse. Of women, of the environment. All that damage that's done.

Jim: Okay. If I forgot someone and you didn't speak up, it's your fault. This was a very lengthy roundtable. I believe C.I. was going to plug a book. Not one by Sheila Weller, I'm sure.

C.I.: NPR's Michelle Mercer has just released Will You Take Me As I Am: Joni Mitchell's Blue Period which examines five of Joni's studio albums starting with 1971's Blue and ending with 1976's Hejira. The list price is $24.99 and it's a hardcover book. Those looking for a summer read that's worth reading should pick it up and, by "summer read," I'm not insulting it as "low brow." I just think it's a book that anyone will enjoy -- Joni fan or not.

Jim: Alright and we'll again note Joni Mitchell's website. This is a rush transcript. And a very long roundtable. We probably won't do another musical roundtable for some time.
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