Monday, October 24, 2016

Court and Spark

Court and Spark (AM10)
Artist: Joni Mitchell
Released: January 1, 1974
Producer: Joni Mitchell, Tom Scott
Length: 36:58
Tracks: 1) Court and Spark (2:46); 2) Help Me (3:22); 3) Free Man in Paris (3:02); 4) People's Parties (2:15); 5) The Same Situation (2:57); 6) Car on the Hill (302); 7) Down to You (5:38) 8) Just Like This Train (4:24) 9) Raised on Robbery (3:06) 10) Trouble Child (4:00); 11) Twisted (2:21)
Players: Joni Mitchell – vocals, including background; acoustic guitar; piano; clavinet on "Down to You"; John Guerin – drums and percussion; Wilton Felder – bass; Max Bennett – bass on "Trouble Child"; Jim Hughart – bass on "People's Parties" and "Free Man in Paris"; Milt Holland – chimes on "Court and Spark"; Tom Scott – woodwinds and reeds; Chuck Findley – trumpet on "Twisted" and "Trouble Child" Joe Sample – electric piano, clavinet on "Raised on Robbery"; David Crosby – background vocals on "Free Man in Paris" and "Down to You"; Graham Nash – background vocals on "Free Man in Paris"; Susan Webb – background vocals on "Down to You"; Larry Carlton – electric guitar; Wayne Perkins – electric guitar on "Car on a Hill"; Dennis Budimir – electric guitar on "Trouble Child"; Robbie Robertson – electric guitar on "Raised on Robbery"; José Feliciano – electric guitar on "Free Man in Paris"; Cheech Marin – background voice on "Twisted"; Tommy Chong – background voice on "Twisted"

Court and Spark is nearly embarrassing to listen to with other people; so personal that it feels like a private conservation. On the title track Joni describes her narrow escape from a bad relationship with candor: "He seemed like he read my mind/ He saw me mistrusting him and still acting kind/ He saw how I worried sometimes/ I worry sometimes." She successfully (if depressingly) resists the temptation to make too much of a casual affair, yet in the following song, "Help Me," she reverses herself - the strength is gone and love becomes a threatening force one copes with rather than surrenders to. Throughout, no thought or emotion is expressed without some equally forceful statement of negation; an emotional physics. The lyrics lead us through concentric circles that define a Zen-like dilemma: the freer the writer becomes, the more unhappy; the more she surrenders her freedom, the less willing she is to accept the resulting compromise. Court and Spark is a perfect 10 based on concept alone.

The album achieves its ethereal and lyrical quality with even more orchestration than any of her other recordings. On "Car on the Hill" she changes tempo and inserts choral passages between verses using voices that indeed sound like ladies of the canyon. Within it she waits for a lover hours late; reflecting on the impermanence of infatuation, recalling how "it always seems so righteous at the start,/ when there’s so much laughter,/ when there’s so much spark," though Mitchell's vulnerability never evokes pity.  It makes you wonder why the dude kept her waiting, and does it beautifully. "Down To You" is every bit as intricate and intimate. As good as the melody, vocal and instrumental arrangement are, the lyrics overshadow them, with intimations of the album's opposites: "Everything comes and goes... You're a kind person/ You're a cold person too..." The final song in the suite, "Just Like This Train" is the last escape, expressing the leaving that many of us must endure, whether physically or spiritually.

Joni's boldest fears come out in songs about madness, the last two on the album. Her own "Trouble Child" and the Lambert-Hendricks-Ross penned "Twisted," deal with it in strikingly different ways: the former is tragic, the latter comedy with a punch line that plays on the very notion of schizophrenia. Together they flirt with insanity from a distance safe enough to show she can control even so threatening a concern, or try to.

It's as if Joni lets the wind catch her voice as she guides it  through the Laurel Canyon to the Sunset Strip, across L.A. to the Palm-lined streets of  Beverly Hills and the beaches at Malibu.  The songs defy categorization, blending folk, rock, progressive, country, jazz, pop and classical influences in a single track.  It's exhausting just to list the elements, but they are all there.  Tempi, keys and arrangements change randomly and frequently.  It should be a mess, but instead it ends up mesmerizing.