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Blue
Joni Mitchell

Reprise 2038
Released: June 1971
Chart Peak: #15
Weeks Charted: 28
Certified Platinum: 10/13/86

Joni MitchellJoni Mitchell continues to demonstrate that she is not only an actress-singer but a composer of considerable power: her newest (and aptly titled) album Blue for Reprise is an unqualified success on both counts. It is a collection of what once were called "torch" songs, but Miss Mitchell adds an extra dimension to her "my man's gone now" theme by introducing a spare, satirical element that is sometimes directed at herself, sometimes at her partners. It is this balanced dispassion which makes her work truly womanly rather than merely girlish.

And, if her songs are based on personal experience, she certainly does seem to have had a rough time of it in the Game of Love. In the song "California" she meets a red-neck on a Grecian isle who "...gave me back my smile/ But he kept my camera to sell." The subject of "My Old Man" is apparently given to irregular disappearances, thus causing Joni to collide with the blues and to discover that "The bed's too big/ The frying pan's too wide." That last phrase (think about it) is a genuine image, provocative and palpable. There are others like it running all through her compositions, and they regularly bring the listener to sharp attention with the unmistakable clang of sardonic truth.

Though the subject of all these songs is the blues, Miss Mitchell's extraordinary performances of them quickly remove any possibility that they might all add up to a bad case of the sulks. For instance, her nervous, slightly weird soprano makes "My Old Man" a touching and poignant story rather than a tiresome, weepy compaint. Also, the near-perfection of her arrangements and accompaniment (both Stephen Stills and James Taylor sat in on guitar during the sessions), the beautifully finished (in the sense of complete) sound of each track, all contribute to what may be her best album yet.

I think the finest thing about Blue, however, is its message of survival. "Well, there're so many sinking now/ You've got to keep thinking/ You can make it through these waves/ Acid, booze, and ass/ Needles, guns and grass/ Lots of laughs, lots of laughs./ Well everybody's saying that hell's the hippest way to go/ Well, I don't think so." These words sound to me very like a pointed and pertinent warning to that part of a generation that talks a lot about getting it all together but begins to seem less and less capable of really doing so.

- Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, 10/71.

Bonus Reviews!

It has been a long time between releases, and Miss Mitchell's latest LP displays greater complexities of lyric and a stronger, surer singing voice. Of the original material, "Carey," "All I Want" and "River" seem the most striking.

- Billboard, 1971.

As Joni grooves with the easy-swinging elite-rock sound of California's pop aristocrats, her relation to their (and her own) easy-swinging sexual ethic becomes more probing. But thoughtfulness isn't exactly making her sisterly -- I've even heard one woman complain that she can't sing Joni's melodies any more. Well, too bad -- they're getting stronger all the time, just like the lyrics. From the eternal ebullience of "All I Want" to the month-after meloncholy of "Blue," this battlefront report on the fitful joys of buy-now pay-later love offers an exciting, scary glimpse of a woman in a man's world. A

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Joni Mitchell - Blue
Original album advertising art.
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"I thought Joni was singing for me when I bought it way back," reminisces Richard Skinner. "Listening again -- she still is!" If so, Richard must have some sort of love life. Blue is known for its honesty verging on indiscretion in discussing real-life love affairs.

The emotion and perception of Blue touched a wide range of fans and musicians alike. It was nonetheless shocking when Nazareth enjoyed a hit single with a heavy version of "This Flight Tonight."

In 1987, Blue was chosen by a panel of rock critics and music broadcasters as the #67 rock album of all time.

- Paul Gambaccini, The Top 100 Rock 'n' Roll Albums of All Time, Harmony Books, 1987.

Poetic, confessional pop/folk/jazz by the one female singer-songwriter with the guts and intellect to stand equally in the male-dominated world of early seventies pop/rock. Her painfully exposed experience and L.A. musical and production sensibility reached their zenith on Blue, which includes some of her strongest compositions: "All I Want," "Blue," and "The Last Time I Saw Richard." The minimal instrumental settings provided by Stephen Stills, James Taylor, Sneaky Pete, and Russ Kunkel add subtle nuance to a primarily vocal/acoustic guitar effort. The intimacy of the original recording is nicely preserved on CD. A-

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

An extraordinarily revealing study in romance and dependency that begins with the girlish infatuation of "All I Want" and ends with the downcast but determined "The Last Time I Saw Richard." The spare music is dominated by Mitchell's newly expressive singing and her guitar and dulcimer work. * * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

With its all-star guest list -- including Stephen Stills and James Taylor -- Blue is a frank and revealing work, as well as one of Mitchell's finest singing performances. * * * * *

- Hilary Weber, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

Longing never sounded so gorgeous as on this legendary, chillingly beautiful tapestry that set the standards for the singer-songwriter/confessional genre. Lonely odes from Europe?, love songs where the protagonist admits fault but is too strong for any man? -- it's all here, sung with power and harmony -- not to mention a vocal range to die for -- prompting the Blue-clued to chorus, "I could drink a case of Joni and still be on my feet." * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

Most of Blue's tracks are dominated by one of two instruments -- a piano or guitar -- that back Mitchell's liquid, intimate vocals soaring frequently to a moving and confessional falsetto. Like the music itself, Mitchell's lyrics speak volumes with a few poetic, haiku-like strokes. "My Old Man" sums up longing with pictures of a bed and a frying pan that are too big in her lover's absence. Her adventures on the road are chronicled in songs such as "Carey" and "California," with images of beach tar stuck to the soles of Mitchell's feet, fancy French cologne, and a thieving redneck on a Grecian isle. Blue has the hallmark of a work from the early seventies. It was made in an era of political awareness during which America, and its denizens, were struggling with their identity. But as even the most casual sampling of Blue indicates, it would appear that Mitchell was doing the same.

Blue was voted the 14th greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.

- Mimi O'Connor, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.

"The Blue album, there's hardly a dishonest note in the vocals," Mitchell told Rolling Stone in 1979. "At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world, and I couldn't pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy." With song after song of regrets and sorrow and a smoky-blue cover shot of Mitchell on the edge of tears, this may be the ultimate breakup album. Its whispery minimalism is also Mitchell's greatest musical achievement. Stephen Stills and James Taylor lend an occasional hand, but in "California," "Carey" and "This Flight Tonight," Mitchell sounds utterly alone in her melancholy, turning the sadness into tender art.

Blue was chosen as the 30th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

On 1975's The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell painted nuanced portraits of suburban America with a cool, objective eye. Blue, by contrast, is so raw and personal that it feels like a confession. Mitchell later remarked that she had "absolutely no secrets from the world and couldn't pretend in my life to be strong. Or happy." The result is an album of almost painful beauty.

The cover recalls bebop-era classics with its two-tone portrait of Mitchell, drowned in indigo shadows. The music, however, shows her at her least jazz-inflected, with plain string instruments and bare piano work. Billboard admired her "stronger, surer singing voice," but this scarcely conveys the thrilling sincerity of Mitchell's vocal performance on the album, which went on to sell more than a million copies.

The focus is on relationships -- their brittle joy and nerve-flaying failures. "My Old Man" describes the loyalties of a love affair with heartbreaking clarity. Likewise, "A Case Of You" is a sad, generous toast to a love that cannot quite be laid to rest. Only the title track embraces wider concerns in its lament for a once so optimistic but now faltering generation.

Even the two joyful songs, "California" and "Carey," are about departures for warmer climes and nostalgic places. Mitchell does, however, give a foretaste of her skill in drawing characters with "The Last Time I Saw Richard" -- an austere portrait of a life in decline.

Although James Taylor and Steven Stills contributed guitar parts, Blue is devoid of any presence other than Mitchell's. She stands alone in the cold heart of this utterly compelling work.

- Jamie Dickson, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

Her follow-up to the also lovely Ladies of the Canyon was a revelation: as simultaneously rigorous and freewheeling as jazz, and as lyrically resonant as the Band.

Blue was chosen as the 11th greatest album of all time by the editors of Entertainment Weekly in July 2013.

- Entertainment Weekly, 7/5/13.

The apex of Mitchell's confessional writing. Blue is a deceptively folky set flush with intoxicating melodies, dazzling (if often invisible) syncopation, and lyrics of breathtaking intimacy. "Songs are like tattoos," she sings on the title track. Indeed, each here is indelible -- none more than the exquisitely sad holiday hymn "River," and "A Case of You," written with her ex Leonard Cohen in mind and played with her ex James Taylor on guitar. "My stuff is not male fantasy at all," she once noted. "It's instructed to make men a little more informed."

- Will Hermes, Rolling Stone, 5/19.

From its smoky, instrospective cover to its wholly unguarded approach to songwriting, Blue is the first time any major rock or pop artist had opened up so fully, producing what might be the ultimate breakup album and setting a still-unmatched standard for confessional poetry in pop music. Using acoustic instruments and her octave-leaping voice, Mitchell portrayed herself as a lonely painter, aching to make sense of all her heartbreak. She reflects on past relationships and encounters, including a chef from Crete ("Carey") and rock luminaries like Graham Nash ("My Old Man"), Leonard Cohen ("A Case of You"), and James Taylor ("This Flight Tonight"), who lent a hand on a few tracks. Along with its romantic melancholy, Blue was the sound of a woman availing herself of the romantic and sexual freedom that was, until then, an exclusively male province in rock.

Mitchell continued to release excellent records throughout the Seventies, but Blue remains her masterpiece. "The Blue album, there's hardly a dishonest note note in the vocals," she told Rolling Stone in 1979. "At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world, and I couldn't pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses either."

Blue was chosen as the 3rd greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Oct. 2020.

- Rolling Stone, 10/20.

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