Monday, September 24, 2012

Song #264 of 9999 - Help Me by Joni Mitchell

Song #264 of 9999 

Title: Help Me
Artist: Joni Mitchell
Year: 1974
Album: Court and Spark

I may have mentioned this before, but my familiarity with Joni Mitchell's work is somewhat limited, so I won't try to put Court and Spark or the single "Help Me" into any sort of precise perspective in terms of her career. The furthest limb I'm willing to climb upon is that Mitchell was steadily cultivating her interest in jazz and its influence on her songwriting and arranging was becoming more and more apparent. Perhaps I'll go one step further and say it seems to me that, while Ladies of the Canyon and Blue seem introspective, Court and Spark is bursting with extroverted color and charm.

The obvious and most significant change is her incorporation of Tom Scott's L.A. Express, a jazz fusion band that backs her on several of this album's tracks. The bright chords, with their glimmering major 7ths, are colored in with Larry Carlton's tasteful guitar arpeggios, the tines of electric pianos, flourishes of flutes and tight vocal harmonies. But to me, the real evidence that Mitchell has been steeping herself in jazz is her vocal track. The angular and far-reaching melodies are not new—she was doing this kind of thing almost from the start of her career. (Although they do seem to fit snugly into this style, her voice seeming as versatile as a wind instrument.) It's actually the rhythmic phrasing of the vocal line that captures my attention. Listen to the way she delivers the last verse, especially the lines "Are you going to let me go there by myself/That's such a lonely thing to do/Both of us flirting around/Flirting and flirting." Even in this context, where the rhythm section is pretty much laying down a straight pop groove, these lines swing through variations in rhythm, dynamics and articulation. It's a very creative approach to pop singing that is really unlike anyone else (except maybe Ani DiFranco, twenty years later).

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