Joni Mitchell

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Joni Mitchell (born Roberta Joan Anderson, November 7 1943, Fort McLeod Alberta) is a Canadian musician and painter. Initially working in Toronto, but mainly associated with the burgeoning folk music scene of the mid-1960s in New York City, through the 1970s she expanded her horizons, predominantly to rock music and jazz, to become one of the most highly respected singer-songwriters of the late 20th century.

Originally a painter brought to music by her folk singer husband, the songs her first releases Song for a Seagull (1968) and Clouds (1969) were archetypes of the nascent singer-songwriter movement of the time. Fey, wordy, and often self-conciously "poetic", they were redeemed by Mitchell's extraordinary wide-ranging voice and unique guitar playing, tuning the instrument in both orthodox and unorthodox manners to produce a distinctive rhythmic, driving sound that carries the recordings. Clouds represented a commercial breakthrough, containing her first two classic tracks "Chelsea Morning" and "Both Sides, Now".

By her third album, Ladies of the Canyon (1970), maturity had eliminated her more sophomoric tendencies, resulting in a record infused with the spirit of California life (the canyon of the title is Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles) as well as containing her first major hit single, the environmental "Big Yellow Taxi", and her song "Woodstock", about the music festival, which was later a hit for Crosby, Stills and Nash. Also of interest "For Free" is the first of Mitchell's many songs focusing on the dichotomy between the benefits of her stardom and its costs, both in terms its pressure and the loss of privacy and freedom it entails.

This more mature, confessional approach was continued on Blue (1971), widely considered the best of this period. From exploring the various facets of relationships: from infatuation on "A Case Of You" to insecurity on "This Flight Tonight", the songs, many piano led, exhibit some of the rhythms associated with rock music, quite possibly due to the influence of collaborator David Crosby. The rock influence was still strong on her next two albums, her first for her new label Asylum. For The Roses (1972), whose title track continued her exploration of the themes of "For Free", sold well, supported by the hit single "You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio" and 1974's Court and Spark, was a huge success, producing the international hit "Free Man In Paris" and remaining her best selling work to this day.

Court & Spark was also notable for the first echoes of the influence of jazz on Mitchell's work and despite the commercial success of the more mainstream tracks, she would spend the rest of the decade producing largely jazz inflected music. The first such album, The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (1975) was also a lyrical departure, with the confessional style replaced by a series of vignettes of 1970s women, from nightclub dancers ("Edith and the Kingpin") to the bored wives of the wealthy ("The Hissing Of Summer Lawns" and "Harry's House"). Musically it was stylistically diverse with complex vocal harmonies set alongside African drumming, the latter a presage of Paul Simon's more lauded work in the 1980s. Hejira (1976) continued the trend, with many of the tracks led by (jazz musician) Jaco Pastorius' fretless bass guitar. The songs themselves, however, were more similar to earlier work, dense poetic lyrics (whose precise meaning is frequently unclear) whose swooping vocal melodies provide contrast to the jazz rhythms of the arrangements. To some, however, it lacked the conciseness that the pop influence had given its predecessor. Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (1977) was a further move away from pop towards the freedom and abstraction of jazz, a wordy double album dominated by the lengthy part-improvised "Paprika Plain". The albume received mixed reviews: some enjoyed its experimentation and originality but many found it unengaging and it was not a hit.

Continuing her interest in jazz composition, Mitchell's next work was to be a collaboration with legendary bassist Charles Mingus, who died before the project was completed. Mitchell finished the tracks with a band featuring Pastorius, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock and the resulting free-form, arrhythmic music, while well received in some quarters, again found her appeal becoming more selective.