Wednesday, September 24, 2014


One of my very favourite Mitchell albums, and while I love the naked and intimate Blue, and equally the pop-jazz joy of Court & Spark, Hejira might be her very best.  It features the full flowering of her jazz explorations, remarkable melodies and chord choices, plus fascinating stories and the great Jaco Pastorius on bass.  The album has now been reissued on 180-gram vinyl, still the best way to enjoy its warmth and rich highs and lows, to my declining ears.

Hejira was one of five Mitchell albums to be voted in the 2007 book The Top 100 Canadian Albums (Goose Lane), compiled from a poll of over 500 Canadian music professionals.  It finished at #52, following Blue at #2, Court and Spark at 18, Ladies of the Canyon at #81 and The Hissing of Summer Lawns at #88.  Here's what I wrote in that book:

In three years, Joni Mitchell recorded three albums  - each a major accomplishment - in completely different styles.  The leaps from Court and Spark to The Hissing of Summer Lawns to Hejira are radical and fully realized.  On Hejira, she focuses on more complete story-songs; musically, she graduates to work with a major collaborator.

Jaco Pastorius was a young and already influential bass player, part of the jazz-fusion group Weather Report.  His fluid playing could dominate a song.  He wasn't there to keep the bottom end - Pastorius's bass was a moaning counterpoint to the melody, and working with him meant Mitchell had crossed a line into more advanced modern jazz.  His four appearances here began a studio and concert partnership that completely altered Mitchell's music for the rest of the seventies.

Hejira is a traveling album, its characters restless and on the move.  The protagonist of Black Crow is even trapped in travel, locked into a cycle of ferry to highway to plane to train, unsure if there's a home and peace to find.  Amelia makes an icon of that mysterious lost pilot, Amelia Earhart.  In this tale, the pilot doesn't crash, she ascends, swallowed by the sky, and the singer dreams of joining her.  Was it a suicidal thought?  We are told it was just a false alarm.

For the first time since Blue, Mitchell settles into a musical mood for the whole album.  Given the lyrics, it's no surprise it's melancholy.  Yet each song has power instead of sadness, and the characters have dignity.  Coyote, Amelia, the ancient bluesman Furry Lewis, Sharon - they are all heroes, and people on the journey.  As much as the singer longs to get home, the trip offers some wonderful stories.

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