Music Reviews

Joni Mitchell

Woman of Heart & Mind/Painting With Words and Music


Eagle Vision

Formats available: DVD & Blu-ray

This Blu-ray combines two previously released titles for the first time in HD although this treatment really only benefits the live performance Painting With Words and Music which is presented in widescreen for the first time.

Woman of Heart & Mind is a biopic of an artist, a musician and painter who grew up in a small to town in Saskatchewan, Canada in a house by the highway with a picture window that she claims inspired her escape to the wider world. Feeling that painting was her true vocation she started out in music by mimicking Joan Baez and Judy Collins and didn’t really start to find her own voice until getting pregnant at college, marrying another man, Chuck Mitchell, and eventually leaving him. As she puts it: “Every bit of trouble I went though I’m grateful for”, this because it provided the emotional turmoil that fuelled her song writing. In 1967 Mitchell went to New York and joined the folk scene ignited by  Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs et al. There she met and profoundly impressed David Crosby and James Taylor among others and was inspired by the personal narrative of Dylan which she said personalised her work. Mitchell however, wanted to hold onto the melodies, and developed a hybrid that allowed melodic and harmonic movement as well as narrative.

In ‘69 she moved to California and Laurel Canyon, playing Crosby and others before going on to record her debut Ladies of the Canyon and forming a relationship with Graham Nash. When he asked her to marry she took the tough decision to put her art first and went into a depression that resulted in the aptly named Blue in 1970, this inevitably proved a major hit, of which Mitchell says “I was so vulnerable, so naked in my work”. A state that Dylan also went through prior to ‘going electric’, and likewise one which Mitchell reacted to by playing with LA Express, so that as someone in the documentary put it she could be one of the boys. This resulted in more confident music and lead into Court and Spark, an album fuelled by a romance with drummer John Guerin that heralded a new sound for Mitchell and a beginning of the ‘jazz period’. The next album covered here is a personal favourite, Hejira, made with another alleged love with bassist Jaco Pastorius. This film however concentrates on the influence of engineer Henry  Lewy who she says was one of the few technical types who understood what she was trying to achieve. Both partnerships (?) resulted in three remarkable albums including the work she did with Charles Mingus, something encouraged by the jazz legend when he heard Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.

The next creative phase was sparked by her relationship with Larry Klein in the eighties, one that produced Wild Things Run Fast and at 10 years stands out as her longest partnership. The documentary goes up to the recording of Both Sides Now with orchestra that she did in the late nineties but also covers the reunion with her daughter, the child that she had given up in her late teens and hadn’t seen for forty years.

The documentary includes a lot live and TV footage as well as extensive contributions from Mitchell, Nash, Crosby and other key figures. It paints a portrait of an emotionally intelligent, musically gifted genuine individual. A woman that followed her heart and her mind, constructing her own chords and her own rules about how and where she performed. She gave up large scale concerts because of the difficulty in communicating with so many people. Painting With Words and Music, the accompanying live performance from 1998 finds her in a relatively intimate Warner lot setting playing in the round. A situation she clearly thrives in, the fact that she’s accompanied by great musicians, including Larry Klein on bass helps to produce a very slick yet strong event, during which we get a short political rant preceding Sex Kills as well as some superb fretless bass from her ex amour.

The sound does not quite match the sumptuous presentation but in the absence of a decent processor and multiple channels in my system is probably the reason,  it’s good enough to make me wonder if there’s a way of getting the PCM stereo onto my hard drive. It’s also a more enjoyable, upbeat recording than Both Sides Now which likewise found Mitchell revisiting old favourites, these ones however are largely from the post folk era, Court and Spark onwards.

It’s Woman of Heart & Mind that makes its mark however, as a result of the exposure she felt on Blue Mitchell has always been an enigmatic fgure, rarely giving interviews and letting her work speak for her. So it’s intrigueing to hear what she has to say about the music that has inspired so many, and this I suspect makes it good viewing for both fans and newcomers alike.

Audio formats: DTS HD Master & LPCM stereo
Length: 204 mins total

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