Sunday, October 08, 2023

Kat's Korner: Put away 'the hammers and the boards and the nails'

Kat: The point of JONI MITCHELL ARCHIVES -- VOL. 3: THE ASYLUM YEARS (1972 - 1975) is to make people reassess FOR THE ROSES.  Now I could be wrong.

For instance, C.I. noted the release in Friday's "Iraq snapshot" and Martha told me it resulted in at least one e-mail where someone thought C.I. was insulting Joni Mitchell.  They wrote, "Asylum?  So you're calling her a nut."

No, C.I. wasn't.  This new release, that dropped on Friday, follows the years when Joni released FOR THE ROSES, COURT AND SPARK and THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS -- all of which were released on David Geffen's ASYLUM label.  It's a multi disc set if you go for vinyl or CD (it's also available in streaming) and you should go for it in one format or another.  And maybe it exits to remind people that there was once a label called ASYLUM.   

Or maybe we're supposed to wish the album would begat another -- taking some tracks from the album and turning them into another release?

I wish the 22 tracks that make up the Carnegie Hall concert from February 23, 1972 would be released as an album the way the tracks from the second volume archive release earlier had allowed the Carnegie Hall from February 1, 1969 to be released as its own stand alone volume.  You've got the February 23, 1972 concert in full as well as tracks from a Royal Festival Hall, May 5, 1972 concert and from other concert performances.  It's interesting to hear this period where Joni's still using her soprano but moving away from what some had once called her "cold water soprano" because she hits notes so high (and often so thin -- her notes thickened as the years progressed).  It's also interesting to hear how she worked over versions of the same song.

You get that from the demos included as well.

So maybe that was the point of the album?  To show the line between BLUE's "All I Want" and COURT & SPARK's "Help Me."  Musically, they aren't that far apart. 

Of the demos, "Piano Suite: Down to You / Court and Spark / Car on a Hill / Down to You"  probably is the most impressive.  It's difficult to listen to these three great songs from COURT AND SPARK and not wonder how the album might have been different if they had remained a suite instead of being spread across that 1974 album. 

That said, it's really interesting to know "You Turn Me On I'm A Radio" (Joni's first song to be a chart hit with her singing it) and yet to hear all the ways it could have been.  First we hear it performed live at a concert in February 1972, then we hear it recorded a few months later with a garage band feel as a demo and then as another demo that's just Joni's voice and guitar.  For archival purposes and music history, I'm glad that, for example, the version Neil Young plays on is included and some live explorations.  It's interesting to hear her exploring the song while it's still new to her; however, I do believe that they nailed it on the FOR THE ROSES release all those years ago.

On these three albums covered in this release, she's moving to different forms of music.

FOR THE ROSES included the description on the album that Joni was accompanying herself on piano.  It was released after Laura Nyro had influenced so many with her piano playing and after Carole King's TAPESTRY became a massive hit.  But this really wasn't about Joni going after what either woman had done.  This was Joni making the piano the primary instrument -- it had popped on SONGS TO A SEAGULL,  CLOUDS, LADIES OF THE CANYON and BLUE but often it was either another flavor or prominent on just a track or two.  FOR THE ROSES was Joni being a one woman band with the piano as she got all these notes out of a deceptively complex piano arrangement. COURT AND SPARK saw the piano return to being an accent and found her moving towards jazz more than she ever had and then THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS (the album she's always said got "beat up on the playground" more than anything else she'd done) which is pure experimentation.

Joni was always stretching and growing and exploring.  

Maybe you have to be several years removed from that journey to really appreciate it.

What's the best Joni album: BLUE or COURT AND SPARK?

For years and years that game was played and, as a result, a lot of people haven't seen FOR THE ROSES as the accomplishment it truly was -- and remains.  It's one of Joni's sadder albums where the only thing she really seems able to embrace is nature -- the wind, the water, the roses.  It is the work of a very troubled artist.

I guess I seem ungrateful
With my teeth sunk in the hand
That brings me things
I really can't give up just yet
Now I sit up here the critic
And they introduce some band
But they seem so much confetti
Looking at them on my TV set
Oh the power and the glory
Just when you're getting a taste for worship
They start bringing out the hammers
And the boards
And the nails

 That's from the title track to FOR THE ROSES.  Contemplate that or this from the same album's "Lesson In Survival:"

Maybe it's paranoia
Maybe it's sensitivity
Your friends protect you
Scrutinize me
I get so damn timid
Not at all the spirit
That's inside of me
Oh baby I can't seem to make it
With you socially
There's this reef around me
I'm looking way out at the ocean
Love to see that green water in motion
I'm going to get a boat
And we can row it
If you ever get the notion
To be needed by me
Fresh salmon frying
And the tide rolling in

And piano had to be the instrument for these mournful song -- just as it had to be the instrument for rebirth much later with "One Week Last Summer" from 2007's SHINE. 

FOR THE ROSES is a classic album -- not just a "Joni classic" but a classic for any artist.  It had the misfortune of coming out after Joni's most penetrating album (BLUE) and before Joni's most commercial album (COURT AND SPARK) which has resulted in even some Joni fans overlooking it.

I really think, regardless of what the purpose of this third release of archive material, the outcome is a reassessment of FOR THE ROSES and a greater appreciation of what Joni accomplished with -- and on -- that album.