Hejira: the refuge of the musical roads travelled by Joni Mitchell


Hejira_cover

 

If 2016 taught us anything, beyond the fact political pundits may get facts about politicians totally wrong but unlike politicians, have the brass neck to keep appearing on telly and don’t resign like the politicians, it is this.

You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, so cherish it.

That line from Big Yellow Taxi could apply to the musical foot soldiers we lost in 2016. The Mount Rushmores of that year were, to most minds, Bowie, Prince, Cohen, George Michael.

The four of them were intensely personal singer-songwriters, given to playing around with identity, dipping in and out of fashion, wonderful at collaborating but pretty darned powerful on their own.

And so if 2016 taught us anything, maybe it taught us we have to appreciate similar musical greats while they’re in our midst.

Hejira is not one of the big selling Joni Mitchell albums, it certainly doesn’t have a hit like Big Yello Taxi or Both Sides Now on it,  it is the meat in the Hissing Of Summer Lawns (1975)/Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1976) sandwich. It is above all a phenomenal piece of work.

Take Song for Sharon, all eight minutes and forty of it. A song that long can take in playing bingo, and poker, falling in love, visiting a fortune teller, skating on an ice rink, the suicide of a friend (possibly frenemy), rhyming “leaving her man at a North Dakota junction” with a “dream malfunction”. And so it decides to do just that.

Hejira is a musicians’ album.

Not in the sense that musicians from Bjork to jazzers like Herbie Hancock to Chaka Khan (who covered the title track) rave about it.

The musicians on this album are something else.

Many of them LA session musicians who would walk through Santa Monica untroubled. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take every chance we get to praise them like we should.

Hejira is a musicians’ album featuring musical greats. For instance:-

  • Double bassist Charles Domanico, who played on the themes for M*A*S*H and Cheers, who plays on Blue Motel Room here.
  • The great guitarist Larry Carlton, who added his Gibson riffs  to Becker and Fagen’s vision on many of Steely Dan’s ‘70s records, as well as MJ’s Off The Wall, and the theme for Hill Street Blues. (There are Emmy as well as Grammys in this studio).
  • Bassist Max Bennett, so good on Song for Sharon, who also played session bass for everyone from Frank Sinatra to The Patridge Family. He also appeared on Lalo Schifrin’s Bullitt soundtrack.
  • Neil Young plays harmonica on track three, Furry Sings The Blues.
  • And the small matter of Joni herself. Her songwriting, her singing, her excellent choice in collaborators all serve to camouflage what Chrissie Hyde once told Rolling Stone: “She is an excellent guitar player…I don’t know any guitar player, any of the real greats, who don’t rate Joni Mitchell up there with the best of them.”

Other albums like Blue, Court & Spark  and Clouds  showcase Joni singing a song, often just her and an acoustic guitar.

Hejira highlights what she could do with an acoustic and electric, and when she let herself loose with multi-tracking too.

Only Jaco Pastorius, whose fretless bass also  makes the album so good, is no longer with us, although we just lost Sam Shepard, the widely accepted muse for opening track Coyote.

All the others who played on Hejira not least Joni herself should be wrapped up in cotton wool and garlanded with Lifetime Achievement Awards every chance there is..

 

 

 

Former editor of Smash Hits and Q, writes on music here, for the BBC Entertainment & Arts website, Reaction.life and others. Favourite artists include Prince, Blur, Pet Shop Boys, Leonard Cohen, The Beatles, Daft Punk, Joni Mitchell, John Grant, Velvet Underground, Stevie Wonder, The Blue Nile and too many others to mention.