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October 16, 2017

Book Notes - Barney Hoskyns "Joni: The Anthology"

Joni: The Anthology

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Joni: The Anthology, a collection of interviews, commentary, and commentary, illuminates the life and art of Joni Mitchell.

The Atlantic wrote of the book:

"Nearly 50 years' worth of critical efforts to solve Mitchell’s mysteries have now been rounded up in Barney Hoskyns's Joni: The Anthology....what comes through most consistently is a possessive impulse, a desire to really know an artist whose fierce privacy has often seemed at odds with the impression of intimacy conveyed by her music."

In his own words, here is Barney Hoskyns' Book Notes music playlist for his book Joni: The Anthology:

Joni Mitchell's 10 Best Albums

1 Court and Spark (1974)
An ultra-cool masterpiece about the '70s SoCal high life, set to stunning jazz-lite arrangements by Tom Scott and his L.A. Express. Breezy freeway chords and slick licks suggested a kind of female Steely Dan, while Mitchell's lyrics were alternately arch and angst-ridden. The newly chic Joni swanned through 'People's Parties', but behind the paved-paradise façade lurked the brooding introversion of 'Trouble Child'. It was Mitchell at the peak of her powers.

2 Blue (1971)
A virtual concept album about romantic love, Blue was written after a stormy affair with fellow acoustic navel-gazer (and heroin addict) James Taylor. It could almost have been an extended therapy session: just Joni alone in the studio with engineer Henry Lewy, warbling of love's waxing and waning. "Will you take me as I am," she sang on 'California', "strung out on another man?" Yes, unhappy damsel, we will.

3 Ladies of the Canyon (1970)
This seminal SoCal album was the sound of Joni growing up – and out of the wide-eyed folkie ingenuousness of 'Chelsea Morning' and 'Both Sides Now'. The arrangements were more ambitious, the ambiguities richer. 'Big Yellow Taxi' was Joni in exuberant satirical mode, strumming and whooping. 'Woodstock' was an ominous hymn to the counter-cultural Catskills gathering she never got to.

4 The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975)
In opting to write "social description" rather than "personal confession," Mitchell provoked the ire of fans and critics alike. Yet The Hissing's complex studies of suburban malaise comprised one of her greatest collections. 'Harry's House' and 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns' dissected white-collar America with clinical precision, while airy ruminations such as 'The Boho Dance' and 'Edith and the Kingpin' were bittersweet-beautiful. A mid-'70s masterwork.

5 Hejira (1976)
Mitchell has stated that Hejira is her most overlooked and underrated work, and one can hear why. Stripping her sound down to guitar, minimal percussion and the ultra-melodic bass playing of tragic Jaco Pastorius, this was Joni alone again, drifting across an older, wilder, weirder America.

6 For the Roses (1972)
The forgotten bridge between Blue and Court and Spark, Roses was written in retreat, in the remote wilds of British Columbia. Haunted by the same losses and regrets as its predecessor, it felt less naked. And 'You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio' returned us to the playful Joni of 'Big Yellow Taxi'.

7 Night Ride Home (1991)
Joni's stripped-down '90s sound was unveiled on this dreamily soulful, overtly nostalgic collection. Acoustic guitars, bongos and congas, Wayne Shorter's twittering sax and Joni's increasingly nicotine-stained voice: all combined to create sexy, sensual moods.

8 Turbulent Indigo (1994)
Lateish Joni: husky, anguished, inveighing against contemporary ills ('Sex Kills') while her heart bled for her sex ('Not to Blame'). An apocalyptic counterpart to Night Ride Home, caustic but deeply moving.

9 Dog Eat Dog (1985)
While it was odd to hear Mitchell backed by thudding drum machines and squalling L.A. geetars, Thomas Dolby's sonic flange actually suited the splenetic bent of these songs. This was Dame Joni on the highest of horses, laying waste to Gordon's Gekko Amerika in the soulless big-hair '80s.

10 Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm (1988)
At the tail end of a troubled, fish-out-of-water decade, Joni found her feet again with this lush, assured set. Heavy on Native American mysticism, Chalk Mark harked back to the techno-rock of Dog Eat Dog but also anticipated the unplugged jazziness of Night Ride Home. Oh, and Billy Idol was on it.

Barney Hoskyns and Joni: The Anthology links:

the editor's website
the editor's Wikipedia entry

Atlantic review
Kirkus review
PopMatters review
Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the editor for Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock

also at Largehearted Boy:

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