A Tribute to Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell's career has been unconventional, challenging and, ultimately, rewarding for her legion of fans. Her debut release consisted of smartly crafted songs grounded in the traditions of English folk ballads. Her voice was a stunningly beautiful instrument that leapt octaves and expressed a restless female sexuality unheard of up to that point in popular music. Gradually over the next 2 albums her music shifted towards a more pop-attuned structure. In 1971 she released Blue a collection of acoustic confessional ballads that were so stark and vulnerable that the album could have been called Naked. Blue made Joni a superstar and has been cited by critics and fans alike as one of the most important records of modern music.
Joni Mitchell could have stayed the course and continued to kick out the same type of music but instead the 1970's found Mitchell experimenting with Jazz and World Music and constantly challenging the borders of commercial music. Due to her musical choices Mitchell received little to no airplay after the mid '70's but continued to influence both her peers and a new generations of musicians.

After years of insisting that her influence has been overlooked or minimized by music historians Mitchell has begun to reap the attention due her. The first major label U.S. tribute to her legacy has been released and features not just a wide array of artists but some of the most inventive musicians and writers of the past 30 years – all influential in their own right. Fittingly the release opens with Sufjan Steven's take on "Free Man In Paris" from Mitchell's most commercially successful album Court and Spark. Steven's has made a name for himself with his refreshingly unique approach to alternative folk/pop/rock and is noted for his lavish production. He doesn't attempt to copy Mitchell's arrangement but takes his cue from her ever-changing modes and recreates it with lush orchestration.

Speaking of unconventional, Icelandic diva, Bjork chooses to cover "The Boho Dance" from Mitchell's The Hissing of Summer Lawns, an album that marked Mitchell's move to experimentation. It is also a record that Prince cited as a huge influence on his musical perspective. He covers "A Case of You" in heartbreaking fashion.

Elvis Costello knows a thing or two about great songwriting so it's interesting that he delves deep into The Hissing of Summer Lawns for "Edith and the Kingpin" a charming tune that blends lust and crime – a perfect choice for Costello. The great Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso also chooses well with his selection of Dreamland" an overlooked classic from Mitchell's outrageous release Don Juan's Reckless Daughter. If you don't have the money to travel to exotic places but have the urge to go then try this one out for a bit of mind travel and make sure to pick up on Mitchell's clever examination of imperialistic politics.

There are other songs that take a straightforward approach to Mitchell's best known songs but the performances are inspired. k.d. lang's "Help Me," Sarah McLachlan's "Blue," and James Taylor's "River" are among them. Cassandra Wilson, Emmylou Harris, Annie Lennox and Brad Mehldau round out the roster.

The CD contains the lyrics to all the included songs so make sure to pull them out to read. It will serve as a reminder of what Joni Mitchell has meant to modern songwriting.

Rosemary Welsch, WYEP Afternoon Mix host