No hearts of gold, no nerves of steel: the best of Joni Mitchell

My Joni Mitchell fandom, which waxes and wanes, gets a jolt when I hear “Help Me” or “Come In From the Cold” in Publix Supermarket. Other than Amy Grant’s cover of “Big Yellow Taxi” (better than Counting Crows’, of course) and complimentary allusions from Prince, I avoided her until Billboard ran a cover story in early fall ’96 to commemorate her Century Award and promote the Hits and Misses collections. I don’t remember the prose or insights being particularly fetching (she laughs off Sting as an unfortunate influence, as if it made political sense to mention him at all), but it nudged me into buying Blue, which I liked not loved until I was old enough to have had a few affairs.

A vinyl copy of Court and Spark borrowed from the A/V library did it: ten perfect songs that like their creator couldn’t make up their minds about being narratives, autobiography, journal entries, or reasons to flaunt exquisite woodwind arrangements. I was even more taken by The Hissing of Summer Lawns, an opaque song cycle about daydreaming in mid afternoon L.A. sunlight, with the blinds drawn; it’s Joan Didion recording Station to Station. She found refuge on the road on Hejira, on which her vocal lines are as long as I-95 and her open-tuned guitar conjures empty expanses of freeway. But I can already hear signs of nicotine wear: she’s talking because she’s losing her high end. I don’t care much for her again until Dog Eat Dog‘s “Good Friends,” a duet with a Fairlight synthesizer but with Michael McDonald on the credits (it was her last Hot 100 appearance). Critics I respect hold up 1991’s Night Ride Home as a late career comeback, and when I hear “Come In From the Cold” I believe them. The rest is too billowy and tentative, although Mitchell finally found a way for her constricting vocal range to sound expressive. Mom can’t listen to Mitchell’s rerecording of “Both Sides Now” (featured in Love Actually) without crying. Mom doesn’t cry much.

1. Refuge of the Road
2. Help Me
3. Woman of Heart and Mind
4. The Last Time I Saw Richard
5. Court and Spark
6. Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire
7. Just Like This Train
8. Don’t Interrupt This Sorrow
9. A Song For Sharon
10. Carey
11. A Case of You
12. Trouble Child
13. Both Sides Now (2000 version)
14. Come In From the Cold
15. In France They Kiss on Main Street
16. Hejira
17. Little Green
18. You Turn Me On (I’m a Radio)
19. The Same Situation
20. Coyote
21. Blue Motel Room
22. Talk to Me
23. Down to You
24. Blue
25. Ladies of the Canyon
26. The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey
27. Night Ride Home
28. Barangrill
29. Two Grey Rooms
30. Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter

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