Until I listened to Court And Spark, Joni Mitchell’s sixth studio album, I think the only two songs of hers that I consciously knew were “Big Yellow Taxi” and the 2002 version of “Both Sides Now” – I didn’t even know the original! Still, this Canadian singer-songwriter is infamous for her contributions to the music industry.
Court And Spark was released in January 1974 and Mitchell worked on the album for about a year in-studio before it was released. In fact, 1973 was the only year since her debut album in 1968 that Mitchell did not release an album. She took time in 1973 to focus on expanding into different sounds, including the jazz influences you can hear on Court And Spark.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect of Joni Mitchell. As I mentioned, most recent track I’ve heard of Joni Mitchell’s was her 2002 release of “Both Sides Now”. It was released over 40 years after her first album, and as a result, her voice also aged and is more full and mature. I thought her voice would be similar on her 1974 album, but I was wrong. Its much more ethereal and smoother than I expected.
Court And Spark was Mitchell’s most popular album, especially after the release of “Help Me” as a single, which made it into the Billboard Top 10. There are two characteristics of this album, and in particular, her music in general (from what I’ve heard and researched) that I find particularly interesting.
The first is the clarity with which she writes. Reading her lyrics, they are emotional and honest, discussing her personal struggles and unease, such as in “People’s Parties”, where she sings about “living on nerves and feelings / with a weak and lazy mind / and coming to people’s parties / fumbling deaf dumb and blind”. All of her songs are beautifully expressed stories with a simplicity and poetic ease that is unmatched by any of the albums I’ve listened to so far.
And of course, Joni Mitchell has a very distinct vocal style, balancing the deep fullness and power of her voice with higher range, falsetto lines. Her use of varied rhythms and changing time signatures gives her songs such a free-flowing feeling which also highlights poignant moments in her stories. A great example of this would be in “Same Situation”.
I’d like to listen to more of Joni’s music now, although I don’t think Court And Spark is my favourite. Its very accessible and was commercially successful, but its got really easy rock vibe to it, which isn’t really in my tastes. That said, my understanding is that when this album was released, it was the most jazz influenced album for her, with the previous five albums being rock-folk albums. It will be interesting to listen to some of her older music (and newer music, too) to compare differences.
Although “Both Sides Now” is not part of Court And Speak, if you want to see a really interesting comparison of her music, check out this live video of Joni singing the song in 1970, and this live video of her in 2000. Very different sound, very different feeling.
What do you think? What has Joni’s influence been on the music industry? If you’re a fan, what do you think makes her fantastic? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Stay cool, music fans.
- Court And Spark
- Help Me
- Free Man In Paris
- People’s Parties
- Same Situation
- Car On A Hill
- Down To You
- Just Like This Train
- Raised On Robbery
- Trouble Child