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RAUL VALENCIANO <email@example.com> (13.12.2002)
The first time I heard to this lady was an epiphany. I have never heard someone playing acoustic guitar as Joni does. Not even Clapton. Only Jimmy Page got close to those strange but at the same time suggestive chords Mrs Mitchell plays ( his softer works on Led Zep IV are clearly influenced by her. In Page´s own words, Joni´s unique ability to play guitar "Made him cry"). Every single song in this album is a precious little gem which is worth enjoying. And her capacity to create what it seems to me real "poetry in music" is unmatched in rock world. She may beat Dylan in his own playground. Why has she been so disgracefully underrated, not to say ignored by the vast majority of listeners? Why can´t you find her first four albums in Spain?. Fortunately Kazaa exists. Internet saved my life by giving me the chance of getting her 8 first albums. George, though I already think of you as one of the few good rock reviewers I have ever found in the web, please make haste and comment Blue, and say you agree with me in its being one of the 20 best albums ever released by a pop artist, and I´ll adore you forever for that.
I disagree a little with your comments on Clouds being about the same quality as this one, actually. I do acknowledge that its extremely pretentious, but I just like the SOUND of this one a lot better. The singing is a little less bland than on Clouds, too. Especially listen to 'I Had a King' the way Joni sings "Crazy and bliiiind". 'The Dawntreader' especially blows me away. Don't know if you knew, but Joni often double-tracks her guitars, (off the top of my head, I KNOW it's done on 'Marcie' and on 'Michael From Mountains' and not a single song on this album is played in standard tuning. Legend has it she learned/developed her bizarre system of tunings with Mr. Crosby himself.By the way, 'I Had a King' was written about Joni's divorce. According to her, her marriage dissolved soon after her folk-singing duo with her husband broke down due to radically different musical philosophies. Hence the whole "You know my thoughts don't fit the man..." The wailing thing on 'Nathan La Franeer' is listed as an instrument called a "Banshee" which I've only heard of as a mythical demon haunting old Irish castles. Maybe it's just a neat way of saying "fucking around with Feedback?"
Vukasin Zrelec <firstname.lastname@example.org> (08.08.2004)
Rock history would have you believe that this album, though giving some clue to true potentials of the author, is in fact a weak and clumsy effort, quite unworthy in comparison to Joni's later achievements. I, however, think that Song To A Seagull is not at all a work valuable only due to Joni's later successful career, but a masterpiece in its own right.First of all, the music here is weird. Supposedly it's folk, but differs a lot from any folk done at the time, showing a lot of influence from classical music and conveying an impression of real medieval traditional music. I'm just trying to describe the feel of the sound here, actually it sounds nothing at all like Blackmore's Night or Loreen McKennit or any other would-be artistic generic rip-offs of authentic ethno music –this one is truly innovative, and unique. The problem is that the melodies are rather difficult and not apparent, to my unmusical ears at least, and it took me some time to get to them. But the repeated listens to the album proved to be extremely rewarding, as the actual hooks and riffs started to appear out of what seemed to be at first an endless stream of monotonous singing and guitar-strumming. Fortunately, songs like 'I Had A King' with its beautiful vocal line, and the energetic 'Cactus Tree' are enjoyable from the very first listen, and they give you reason for listening to the album long enough to see that actually every song here has a great musical idea behind it. An integral part of the charm of this album are the lyrics, of beauty rarely encountered in popular music. They are obviously personal and drawing on actual experience, but are somehow transcendent. On this album Joni doesn't sing of herself, her loves, woes and soul-searching, but about Woman, Love, Sadness, Soul-search. She is sincere, yet somewhat detached, all the emotions are heavily filtered before finding their place in the songs. Slight distance and generalization raise the songs to almost mythical stature, without ever sounding preachy, falsely prophetic and pompous like most of the records of the time. The most prominent theme here is seeking for freedom, presented like a mystical quest for Holy Grail, to be attained through tormentous search and personal bravery, quite unlike the 'making love doing drugs' ideal of the period. The ways in which she approaches the themes are fascinating, I can't help admiring the patient unfolding of Marcie where every line gently leads to the emotional climax. The describing of girl's daily course in that song is followed by numerous flashbacks, lovely comparisons, shifting perspectives, use of red and green as symbols which return every time with more ominous meanings, and finally alternative endings, making this one of the most complex narratives in rock music and a true poetical gem. My personal favourite here is 'Dawntreader', for its unsurpassed vivid imagery. The song is incredibly suggestive, and as Joni tells of 'gilded galleons spilled across the ocean floor', I swear I actually see treasure chest on a coral reef, colours of the parrot standing on a pirate's shoulder, feel the salty breeze in my nostrils... And the line 'he stakes all his silver on a promise to be free' always touches me profoundly, by saying so much in such a simple way – longing for freedom, sacrifices one has to make, uncertainty of the outcome and oh so much more. Breathtaking! Singing on the album perfectly matches the lyrics, slightly melancholic yet uplifting, it has a dreamy quality present on the whole album, making it grounded in reality but with definite aura of fantasy. And though almost every song here is a masterpiece by itself, they fit together perfectly, making it hard for me to imagine that a single song (even a single word) could be substituted. Besides, as I tried to point out, the album is a mine of ideas, both musical and lyrical, which one just keeps discovering. And there are not many beautifully unique and uniquely beautiful albums like this one, and we should cherish them all the more for that.
Usually when I listen to this one I put on the first three tracks and 'Both Sides Now'. 'The Gallery' is pretty as hell, but other than that, the rest of the numbers pretty much pass me by. Much as I love Joni, I find 'Songs to Aging Children Come' a complete bore. I totally agree with you, though, that 'Both Sides Now' makes up for any shortcomings. 'The Fiddle and the Drum' actually started out as a pseudo rock and roll tune (well, as rock and roll as one tall, scrawny soprano with her guitar can get) called 'And so Once Again'. One night, performing at a club, Joni was tuning her guitar and broke a string, so she performed the song a capella. And that's what lead up to the song we know as 'The Fiddle and the Drum'. Honestly, I'm interested to hear what the "pseudo-rock" version would have been like.
This is actually one of my favorite Joni albums (and I have fourteen of them). The title track I actually find kind of dull. However, 'For Free' is worth the price of the album in my eyes if only for the way Joni sings the closing lines of each verse. Am I imagining that strong lower register beginning to show? Wish Joni would sing low like that more often. It really works for her. For some reason 'Conversation' reminds me of 'Big Yellow Taxi' and I actually prefer it to the latter about half the time. 'The Arrangement' is an all time Joni favorite for me and thematically, it foreshadows her 1975 album The Hissing of Summer Lawns. I find 'The Priest' just as interesting as the closing 3-song sequences, but that may be just me.