Recently I have been putting Blue on – and singing along – every time I turn my computer at home, which is every weekend – the only time I get to listen to music, really. I’ve become word perfect on a few of the songs, and get a serious kick out of some of the rest. No, I don’t love every single bit of it, although how many albums can you say this of? In particular, I don’t care for the aptly-titled title song – precisely because it is so dreary and rather dramatic, even veering into the self-absorbed – and ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’, which seems like a rambling, tuneless, and painfully introspective effort to me (this is saying something coming from a very introspective person). Listing the bad bits may be a funny way of saying that I like Blue very much. But by getting it out of the way I hope to make it clear that the rest of the bits are good.

There’s a good reason why Joni Mitchell was deemed the 72nd greatest guitar player by Rolling Stone magazine, even higher than 83rd ranked Neil Young (!!), even you don’t put much stock in such lists. (Which you might be wise not to, given that Ms. Mitchell is one of only two women on the list of 100, the other being Joan Jett.) Blue exhibits lots of subtle acoustic guitar, with gorgeous riffs and unusual chords, sometimes enhanced by piano, dulcimer and/or light percussion. It also happens that Ms. Mitchell is the first popular musician I’ve encountered with a vocal timbre like mine; I’d always thought previously that clear, bright, soprano voices were confined to classical music, and am delighted to discover otherwise. She puts her voice through lovely leaps and swoops: it’s light and mercurial and yet almost always weaves a memorable melody. All of which add up to ‘pretty music’, as my sister puts it.

Pretty, but not twee. The lyrics are surprisingly unsentimental, straightforward accounts about the doings of an assertive, sexually liberated woman (it was the 1960s and 1970s), as I found out when I listened a little more closely to the lyrics of ‘Carey’:

Oh Carey, get out your cane

And I’ll put on some silver

Oh you’re a mean old daddy but I like you… fine

She declares unabashedly to ‘My Old Man’ that ‘We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall/Keeping us tied and true’, and doesn’t mask her desires behind convention or maidenly evasions, making quite a list of them in ‘All I Want’. You might think the lyrics would be incongruous when paired with the sweet acoustic music and feminine voice, but they work surprisingly well together, with one component tempering the other. And, despite the title, Blue isn’t all late-night confessions either. There’s plenty of lively, cheerful stuff. There’s plenty of drinking too:

Come on down to the Mermaid Café

And I will buy you a bottle of wine

And we’ll laugh and toast to nothing

And smash our empty glasses down

Let’s have a round for these freaks and these soldiers

A round for these friends of mine

Let’s have another round for the bright red devil

Who keeps me in this tourist town

Ms. Mitchell’s got beautiful imagery, as befits someone who sees herself primarily as a visual artist – specifically, a painter – she paints quite a few of the covers for her albums, though not for this one. I’d say she certainly has a gift for word-painting. ‘Little Green’, though a wistful tale about teenage (single) parenthood, has a gorgeously evocative chorus, the type of lyric I associate with her compatriots in general (Neil Young, L.M. Montgomery), for whatever reason. Perhaps it’s because Canada is supposed to be such a beautiful country.

Just a little green

Like the colour when the spring is born

There’ll be crocuses

To bring to school tomorrow

Just a little green

Like the nights when the Northern lights perform

There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes

And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

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