79/100 — Joni Mitchell — Blue (1971)
For years, my dislike of “Big Yellow Taxi” kept me from listening to Joni Mitchell. Counting Crows, Amy Grant, and Bob Dylan all covered it, and they’re all…ugh. No thanks. So imagine my surprise when Blue is sublime and simple and emotionally transcendent!
Blue conveys a broken vulnerability from the moment you look at the cover. Look at her. The lighting makes her appear skeletal; ghostly translucent. As the album opens with it’s dulcimer drone and sparse bouncing riff her effortless voice evokes a sense of loss:
I am on a lonely road and
I am traveling, traveling, traveling, traveling
Looking for something, what can it be
“All I Want” has uplifting moments (“I wanna knit you a sweater, wanna write you a love letter, wanna make you feel better”) but then you realize that they’re theoretical longings, and may not never happen.
On “My Old Man” the melody and lyrics of “We don’t need not paper from the city hall/keepin us tied and true” is exquisite, before the deep loneliness of what it feels like when he’s gone “the bed’s too big, the frying pan’s too wide” is devastating. And the music matches as everything drops down. It’s an emotional roller coaster. The theme of separation from a loved one continues on the acoustic ballad “Little Green” which explores the loneliness of raising a daughter alone. “Weary of lies you’re sending home” Joni explains to her daughter that life can be full and beautiful, but it can also be full of sorrow. And always that soaring voice, full of emotion, carries the listener along.
Blue is simple musically, but that allows every part to shine. The dancing acoustic guitar and dulcimer of “California,” the dancing upright bass and percussion of “Carey,” and the piano on “River” and “The Last Time I Saw Richard,” all shine through while leaving room for Joni’s emotional delivery.
“Blue” is the crushing centrepiece of album. Each song is a tattoo, a permanent affect on her psyche, and while she loves him, she’s spending time exploring hell. Heartbreak incarnate. She’s so broken that even when she’s having grand adventures in Paris, France, she can’t help but worry and wonder about what’s awaiting her when she goes back to “California”, where her lover is. Even on “This Flight Home” she can’t “can’t numb you out of my mind” and wants to run away again.
“Case of You” is the song which made me seek out and devour this album. Every verse is a perfect image. She’s given up on the relationship, but can’t quite let go yet. Every inflection deepens the poetry and ties another knot around my heart. It’s stunning:
Just before our love got lost you said
“I am as constant as a northern star”
And I said “Constantly in the darkness
Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar”
Oh you are in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter
And so sweet oh
I could drink a case of you darling and I would
Still be on my feet
Blue is about sorrow and loss, and it’s not always an easy listen, no matter how effortless Joni Mitchell makes it sound. It takes incredible vulnerability and strength to make an album as honest as this, and we’re all blessed that Joni did.
Favourite Tracks: “Case of You”, “All I Want”
Least Favourite Track: “The Last Time I Saw Richard”