Everybody’s Dummy holds a strong reverence for an artist’s First Four, as held up by such performers as Dire Straits and R.E.M., wherein their first four albums are essential (and fit conveniently on two 90-minute Maxells, just right for the average interstate car trip). With Blue, Joni Mitchell joins that pantheon, as if she needed any excuse. Everything that enticed listeners through Song To A Seagull, Clouds and Ladies Of The Canyon appears here, in a familiar package but without any redundancy.
So what’s so great about this album? For one, it’s her last folk album; after this she’d add a rhythm section, horns and more overt jazz touches with varying results, and her voice would begin its multi-octave descent. Blue is Joni as hopeless romantic, taking solace in her piano, guitar and dulcimer. “All I Want” sets it up: “I am on a lonely road and I am traveling/Looking for something, what can it be?” From there she takes us through several of her moods: the smitten “My Old Man”; the remorse of “Little Green” (written about the child she’d given up for adoption years before); the slightly hedonistic “Carey”; and the surrender of the title track. And that’s only side one.
Side two longs for a return to “California”, then immediately regrets her decision to take “This Flight Tonight”. “River” gets a lot of play thanks to numerous cover versions every December; look for the interpolation of “Jingle Bells” over the end. From here the album takes a decidedly melancholy and voyeuristic turn, closing with “A Case Of You” and “The Last Time I Saw Richard”, two songs that seem to be taken directly from conversations.
We mentioned that this was her last folk album; it’s a style to which many of her fans wish she would return. She certainly decided she’d done all she could with that voice, and wanted to move on. Fair enough. We’ve dipped our toes into some of her later albums, but there’s no denying the magic of those first four. In a just world, the angry young women of the ‘90s who worshipped at the shrines of Tori, Ani and Alanis have discovered her by now. Or at least, as one of our correspondents likes to say, adopted themselves a cat.
Joni Mitchell Blue (1971)—4½