Sunday, 14 August 2011


To me, the magic of songwriting isn't so much about writing a great song or being able to just write songs.  I think the magic lies in witnessing talented writers who've been granted the opportunity and freedom to write a string of great albums that are touched by that certain 'spark' or spirit; zeitgeist.  All styles of music apply, as do all art-forms.  Channeling the zeitgeist never lasts for any artist; all who've been blessed with the opportunities and freedoms to create great work must one day forgo it, either by the times that have moved on, by death, by change, by life.

Where we can all think of numerous artists whose work is charged by the comet of genius within a certain trajectory of time and space, my favourite example of this is Joni Mitchell.    I love how Joni's first two albums of the late '60s: folky, sensitive, albeit startlingly & piercingly deep given her uber-creativity and free use of open-tunings, are nonetheless akin to compilation albums.  These are songs she'd written that had been made into fine folk-albums.  Her third album, 'Ladies of the Canyon' brought out keener melodies, wider arrangements and more vivid stories that somehow epitomised late-60s California better than any other artist did at the time.  If she'd stopped there, or kept at that level, no-one would have questioned her undoubtable talent.

From 'Canyon' onward, Mitchell's albums became artistic, musical 'statements' rather than merely series of songs stuck on two sides of vinyl, and with that, she channeled the very heights of expressive songwriting, moving further and way above where she'd been with 'Canyon'.   There's her best-known and loved album, 'Blue', followed by 'For the Roses' which was a quieter, more somnambulistic piece, reflecting the wilds and coolness of Canada where she'd moved to for a while.  This leads to another hit, 'Court and Spark'.  'Hissing of Summer lawns' was a thematic departure to the intense introspection that fuelled the previous few albums, and this in turn led to the masterful 'Hejira'. 

I love how each album from 'Blue' to 'Hejira' link seamlessly with a sonic and thematic continuity.  'For the Roses' and 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns' tend to act like conduits for the albums that precede and come after them.  These are great records in their own right although they're not as immediately captivating as are 'Blue', 'Court and Spark', or 'Hejira'.  'Hejira' is magnificent.  Joni was at the very height of her poetic, expressive powers with 'Hejira', infused as it is with a hypnotic magic that was likely aided by Jaco Pastorius' bass for many of its tracks.

And Joni continued to make great music.  But it's for these 70's albums she's most remembered for.  These records were charged with greatness, and pure, unfettered artistry.

Paul Hewson shooting star

i'm in the sunshine A mate of mine produces a monthly songwriter newsletter which goes out to a hundred or so mainly Sydney-based...