Joni Mitchell’s 15th studio album was her first to win a Grammy (though she had won twice before for performances of individual songs). 1994’s Turbulent Indigo picked up the award for Best Pop Album, besting Madonna, Mariah Carey, Annie Lennox and the Eagles.
This album feels like a throwback to Mitchell’s great 70s work, even if it never hits those highs. It sounds great and features some memorable tracks, especially in its superior first half.
Mitchell tackles thorny issues on this album, including AIDS, gun violence, the environment, and domestic abuse. On the haunting ‘The Magdalene Laundries,’ she explores the asylums run for hundreds of years by the Catholic church where young women were institutionalized for alleged promiscuity.
Her most scathing attack is reserved for former friend Jackson Browne, who had recently been accused of beating his girlfriend Daryl Hannah. Mitchell pins that charge on him then accuses him of causing his first wife’s suicide. That song, ‘Not to Blame,’ is one of the album’s best.
After the weird jazz detours in the late 70s and the regrettable pop efforts of the 80s, it’s nice to see Night Ride Home and Turbulent Indigo return Mitchell to something close to form.
Raise ’em up like sheep
Make ’em out of Eskimos
And women if you please
Make ’em nice and normal
Make ’em nice and neat
You see him with his shotgun there?
Bloodied in the wheat?
Oh what do you know about
Living in Turbulent Indigo?
Brash fields crude crows
In a scary sky
In a golden frame
Tourists guided by
Tourists talking about the madhouse
Talking about the ear
The madman hangs in fancy homes
They wouldn’t let him near!
He’d piss in their fireplace!
He’d drag them through Turbulent Indigo
“I’m a burning hearth” he said
“People see the smoke
But no one wants to warm themselves
Sloughing off a coat
And all my little landscapes
All my yellow afternoons
Stack up around this vacancy
Like dirty cups and spoons
No mercy Sweet Jesus!
No mercy from Turbulent Indigo”
Over these past few albums, you start to hear the shift in Mitchell’s voice from soprano to alto, with a limitation in vocal range. Still, I’m glad to see that the songwriting returned to almost form. Of course, now I have to feel guilty for listening to Jackson Browne!
I remember this album cover well, probably because of all the Grammy love for it, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard it. Will remedy that now.