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What’s Your Favourite Joni Mitchell song?

Artwork by Susette Jolley, Venango in Snow

Ask anybody who truly loves music, and he or she will probably know who Joni Mitchell is. What’s more, nearly everybody who knows who she is has a favourite Joni song. Usually, it’s from the earliest reaches of her canon — something hopeful and pretty or wistful and lovelorn: Circle Game, Chelsea Morning, Woodstock, Big Yellow Taxi, That Song About the Midway, or Both Sides Now, all of which became hits for other artists (Buffy Saint-Marie, Fairport Convention, Crosby Stills & Nash, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, and Judy Collins, respectively). Perhaps it’s something from her peak pop chart era, such as “Help Me,” “Raised on Robbery,” or “You Turn Me On (I’m a Radio).” And of course who doesn’t instantly recognize her kicked-in-the-guts-at-Christmas song, ”River,” which has been re-recorded by scores of artists (as has “Both Sides Now”)? When you start to ask other songwriters about their favourite Joni Mitchell tunes or albums, you get more esoteric responses, an affinity for her more difficult albums or at least deeper cuts from the better-known albums. Prince once famously responded in an interview that the last charting album he’d bought was Joni’s alienating 1975 album, THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS, which marked her turn away from the easily identifiable hooks of side one of COURT AND SPARK and into the experimental jazz that later brought her into collaborations with Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock, and Jaco Pastorius. The Purple One even referenced her in “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” on his SIGN O’ THE TIMES album. Stevie Nicks stated that her favourite Joni tune came from 1972’s FOR THE ROSES, “The Blonde in the Bleachers,” in which she identified with the male object to whom the female narrative was singing, somebody who would always slip away and leave others heartbroken. Most fans and critics acknowledge BLUE and COURT AND SPARK as her greatest albums, although I’ve always simply believed that those were her most instantly accessible albums. My heart belonged to FOR THE ROSES and HEJIRA, two lyrically dense and sonically complex pieces (the former from the late end of her folk era and the latter from her fully immersed jazz era). I’ve finally found the courage to release my rendition of “Hejira,” the title track from that latter album. The song itself is a musically complex chord structure within given phrases and verses that then modulate into other keys for the bridges that link each verse to the next (and, no, there’s no sing-along chorus). Instrumentally, the song has always relied on the sinewy muscle of a fretless bass, Jaco Pastorius’s hallmark. I tried my best to honor the original while placing my own stamp on it. My version features a prominent piano as part of the harmonic structure (which I actually played on the recording, something of which I’m rather proud of, since more often than not I relegate the piano to somebody more capable, such as my frequent collaborator Adam Silverstein, or more recently, guest pianist Matt Cook). Tom Briant fills in most of the rest of the original arrangement with acoustic guitar, three different electric guitar tracks (two of which are quite subtle), and the electric bass (he didn’t have a fretless, but he did a very good job of making that bass sound rich, fat, and muscular). Later, Paul Galiszewski added percussion — one take of congas and bongos. I re-recorded the vocal while Paul added his rhythm, no mean feat, as it was the last of fifteen songs that day I’d recorded vocals to at Jankland Studios (no lie…. Paul and I worked on 13 songs together over six hours, and I did one song prior to his arrival and another during his smoke break), and we recorded it after I’d done a punk take of “Endless Street” intended to evoke early Psychedelic Furs. I’m amazed I didn’t sound like a chain smoker by then. Finally, we enlisted cellist Barbara Anndrea Arriaga and violinist Megan Williams, both prominent members of Pittsburgh’s independent music scene, to improvise strings. So here it is…. Check it out on your streaming platform of choice and then share it with as many people as you can on social media!

Also, you can catch my playlists for Hejira on both YouTube and Spotify.

Check out the playlist contents first

The Random Hubiak Band: Hejira Joni Mitchell: Refuge of the Roads Shawn Colvin: Steady On Melvin Lee Davis: Hejira Mary Chapin Carpenter: 10,000 Miles Tom Rush: Urge for Going Joni Mtichell: Amelia Annie Lennox: Ladies of the Canyon Sufjan Stevens: Free Man in Paris Judy Collins: Both Sides Now Joni Mitchell: Blue Motel Room Marc Cohn: Already Home Sarah McLachlan: Blue Jez Graham: Hejira Sting: Desert Rose Paul Simon: The Cool, Cool River Lindsey Buckingham: Big Yellow Taxi (YouTube only) Buffy Saint-Marie: The Circle Game Tutu Puoane: Hejira (Spotify), Cherokee Louise (YouTube) Herbie Hancock: Harlem in Havana Rob Wasserman: Sunway Herbie Hancock and Norah Jones: Court and SPark Shawn Colvin: Diamond in the Rough Bruce Cockburn: Lord of the Starfields Marc Cohn: Saints Preserve Us Kevin Jenkins: Cherokee Louise Jennifer Warnes: The Whole of the Moon Shawn Colvin: Ricochet in Time Fairport Convention: I Don’t Know Where I stand Sting: Fields of Gold k.d. lang: A Case of You Paul Simon: Further to Fly Joni Mitchell: Hejira

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