Songs are like tattoos, or so goes the iconic line in?the title track of Joni Mitchell's 1971 album Blue, and on Monday night’s Arena, Rachel?Breslin?shared her thoughts on what makes?listening to?this?record?an indelible?experience.?Back in September,?Rachel, a?true-blue?Joni?Mitchell?fan,?gave us a?beginners’ guide to the?Canadian?singer-songwriter’s?oeuvre,?but tonight?treated us to a deep-dive into this?seminal?album,?as it tuns 50:?
"To be honest if you start to pick this album apart it becomes?really hard to believe that?it’s?just one?album –?that all 10 of these songs appeared on the same?release?because each one of them is?truly?magnificent in its own?right."??
Joni Mitchell came of age as a performer during a period of?huge?social and political upheaval,?and while railing against the Vietnam War, she also fought against gender-based oppression at?home:????
"She was operating in an?extremely?male-dominated?industry?and with this album,?as an example,?it was very unusual?for a woman?to produce everything?herself."?
Another?influence was the beau monde of Laurel Canyon in the late 60s – a countercultural epicentre where artists such as Cass Elliot,?Carole King, Frank?Zappa?and Mitchell’s one-time beau Graham Nash made their home and cultivated a sense of artistic freedom, where poetry was revered; something Seán noted?about the?songs on the?album:?
"They really are?like poems set to music […]?they’re?lyric?pieces."?
Rachel was quick to lay out her stall, starting at?the?top with the "most perfect love?song"?All I Want – a lyrically playful?ballad?or a break-up song,?depending on your?perspective:?
"This song is remarkable in its?simplicity; the rhyming?sequence?she uses here is?frequently?couplets but the thing that stands out the?most?is this non-conventional,?quirky?kind of conversational language – the lyrics are playful to the point of being childlike,?almost?inane?I would say, yet it?doesn’t?jar or seem in any way like its meant to be a?novelty,?because the song is about being in love and?I?think most people can relate to the fact that?this is exactly what being in love feels like."?
The?writing?of the song coincided with a?tumultuous time in?Mitchell’s romantic?life –?her?relationship?with Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills and Nash?had become serious, but she?balked at the thought of?domesticity and as a?declaration of her dedication to her art, she cut all ties?and set out for Europe. It was in Crete where she met another muse?beneath the Matala moon – Cary Raditz, immortalised in Carey:???
"A wild-looking,?red-haired American chef who later,?when she would play this song, as she frequently did, when she played it?live,?she?would tell?the story introducing it, and?describe?him as having?fierce-looking blue eyes and the mark of?Cain?on?his brow.?So?all very?romantic, and kind of all the?hallmarks?of a holiday fling-type relationship."????
Moving on from her lyrical deftness,?Rachel then spoke about how?the album is also an?example?of her?abilities?on?three?particular?instruments:?The?acoustic?guitar, the?Appalachian?dulcimer and the piano. Joni Mitchell wrote and?produced the album herself and played all the?instruments?except for?one or?two guest?musicians?and on her?ability?as a?pianist,?Rachel?had?this to say:??
"She can be so versatile with?it,?she can use it in a really sparse way like the?really distinctive?opening bars?of the song River […] or it can sound orchestral or almost classical like in the closing song of the album The Last Time I Saw?Richard. She can just do so much with one instrument."?
The other instrument that stands out on?the album is Mitchell’s soaring, octave-jumping voice, a voice that for some has a?marmite quality, Seán noted.?Rachel?responded:??
"I think what’s made?this?album?her most?popular?album?across?the?board is the fact?that her?voice is at?its?most straight-forward?here […] In the two previous albums there was a kind?of extremely?folky-vibe. Her voice was?slightly higher and reedier: not everybody loved it. And?then?after this album she did a lot of jazzy experimentation?with her voice."?
So Blue was the?sweet spot,?vocally?speaking. And for die-hard fan Rachel, what’s the highlight?of the album??It had?to be the?(understandably)?most-covered song, A Case of You, for its humour, pain and?word play:?
"There’s a pun even in the title as well. We’re wondering?is?she sick,?lovesick?with?'a case of you’??But no, as you listen you realise that she’s comparing the?object of her affection to?a fine?wine or?whiskey, so she really?included?that humour?and kept that lightness of touch and that was a real skill with a?love song?as filled with sad longing?and regret as this one?is."?
- Gemma Craddock