Joni Mitchell : Black Crow
My life has totally reoriented itself around one center : music. It is in me and around me, always. I couldn't even have children because it would interfere with my work.
-Joni Mitchell, 1976
Released in November of 1976, Joni Mitchell's Hejira is one of the great road albums, a travelogue of her heartbroken wanderings and wonderings with the amazing Jaco Pastorius performing bass on five tracks. Mitchell has been on the road constantly, touring with Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, an experience that left her exhausted. That was followed by a solo road trip of the United States, in which she wore a red wig and stayed in hotels under a false name. ("I'm so glad to be on my own" she sings on the title track). The album was written on a guitar that I imagine was stuffed in the back seat.
The highlight for me might be "Black Crow", in which Joni sees herself in a black crow diving down to pick up shiny things. Mitchell's own observation about Hejira might be the best: "the poet took over the singer".
The magical, hypnotic singing and songwriting style of Mitchell here gets one of its most fully-rounded, deepest-conceptualized workouts yet. The sound is purely distilled Joni: the high, ethereal voice; the slightly eerie chord tunings and Mitchell's rolling guitar arpeggios; the increasingly inventive use of spare, jazzy rhythm combo backings. The melody lines swirl and cascade like oriental tapestry patterns as Mitchell's voice smoothly fits seemingly impossible-to-sing lyric phrases into a distinctive music.
The underlying idea here that holds together the songs and the surrealistic black-and-white cover photography is that of the wanderings of a free-spirited female who must always look back half-yearningly at the chances for lasting security she has passed up.
A key image song in the LP development is "Black Crow," where the singer compares herself to a bird always "diving down to pick up on every shiny thing." Her cover photo costume emphasizes this black-wing look, along with other song images of the endless highway, childhood ice skating and dreams of the pertect marriage. Best cuts: "Blue Motel Room, " "Black Crow," "Song For Sharon," "Coyote," "Hejira."
Album eight is most impressive for the cunning with which Mitchell subjugates melody to the natural music of language itself. Whereas in the past only her naive intensity has made it possible to overlook her old-fashioned prosody, here she achieves a sinuous lyricism that is genuinely innovative. Unfortunately, the chief satisfaction of Mitchell's words -- the way they map a woman's reality -- seems to diminish as her autonomy increases. The reflections of a rich, faithless, compulsively mobile, and compulsively romantic female are only marginally more valuable than those of her marginally more privileged male counterparts, especially the third or fourth time around. It ain't her, bub, it ain't her you're looking for. B+
1. Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life (Tamla) 292 (25)
2. Graham Parker and the Rumour: Heat Treatment (Mercury) 234 (22)
3. Jackson Browne: The Pretender (Asylum) 232 (22)
4. Graham Parker and the Rumour: Howlin' Wind (Mercury) 215 (19)
5. Kate and Anna McGarrigle: Kate and Anna McGarrigle (Warner Bros.) 208 (16)
6. Steely Dan: The Royal Scam (ABC) 182 (14)
7. Joni Mitchell: Hejira (Asylum) 169 (16)
8. Ramones: Ramones (Sire) 153 (15)
9. Rod Stewart: A Night on the Town (Warner Bros.) 150 (15)
10. Blue Oyster Cult: Agents of Fortune (Columbia)