I’ve seen a lot of fans name 1976’s Hejira, Joni Mitchell’s eighth album, as their favorite of her releases. And I get it. This is a lush, emotional, warm record, brimming with great poetry and beautiful music.
But it’s also a bit of a chore. The nine-song cycle runs over 50 minutes, with multiple tracks topping the six-minute mark. None of the songs have traditional choruses, just four or five (or six) long meandering verses. This album requires you to either pay very close attention or pay no attention at all.
Joni Mitchell continued her musical evolution with the release of The Hissing of Summer Lawns in 1975, just a year after Court and Spark. This album furthered her push into jazz-inflected pop and world rhythms, miles away from the simplicity of ‘Both Sides Now.’
On the brash, aggressive ‘The Jungle Line,’ Mitchell is credited with the first-ever sample, using a recording of African drummers as the bed for her impressionistic lyrics. That percussive track stands apart from the rest of the album, which has a smooth R&B quality. Some of these songs would feel at home on a Steely Dan album.
Continuing my exploration of Joni Mitchell’s career, I’ve arrived at her sixth album, 1974’s classic Court and Spark. This remains Mitchell’s most popular album. It reached #1 in her native Canada and #2 in the United States.
This is also the first album where Mitchell utilizes the vocal tic that long turned me off of her music. On several of these tracks, she slides her voice in a way that reminds me of Dory’s whalespeak in Finding Nemo and totally loses me.
My lord, has it really been 27 years since R.E.M. released Monster? I remember being taken aback by the volume and aggression of this album coming on the heels of 1992’s Automatic For the People, but mostly loving the results.
R.E.M. said they wanted to make a loud album after the mostly acoustic Out of Time and Automatic For the People, and Monster certainly fit the bill. Soaked in reverb, this mashup of glam rock and grunge sounds like nothing else in the band’s catalog, for better and worse.
Wilco’s 2007 Sky Blue Sky, the band’s sixth album, is a mellow affair. As such, I should really give it another try. I’m a big fan of Wilco’s first four albums but never got into 2004’s A Ghost is Born for some reason. I bought this one out of habit but didn’t pay much attention to it at the time.
Hearing today’s random SOTD has me regretting that. This is a lovely acoustic song, very reminiscent of Elliott Smith, and exactly the kind of thing I enjoy from Jeff Tweedy and Wilco.