KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – JONI MITCHELL “DON JUAN’S RECKLESS DAUGHTER”

Artist: JONI MITCHELL
Album: DON JUAN’S RECKLESS DAUGHTER

[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

Back in September 2011, after writing about the discographies of Van Morrison, Talking Heads, The Band, Roxy Music and Paul Simon over the course of the previous six months, I asked my readers to select the next artist via my second poll. Joni Mitchell narrowly beat out Paul McCartney, Tom Waits & David Bowie (the latter two eventually covered here), so I embarked on my re-discovery of Ms. Mitchell’s fascinating catalog, which I documented in a 7-part series over the next couple of months. From wide-eyed folkie to confessional singer-songwriter to jazz-influenced storyteller to elder spokeswoman for generations of adoring fans, I was constantly amazed & inspired by her unique artistry. Every album is worth hearing, but for me the work she did between 1971’s Blue and 1979’s Mingus is the most timeless & enduring. As a longtime jazz fan, her collaborations with a number of that genre’s legends represent some of my favorite Joni Mitchell recordings, starting with 1976’s Hejira. On Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, appearances from saxophonist Wayne Shorter, percussionists Airto Moreira, Don Alias & Alex Acuña and guitarist Larry Carlton are enough to draw me in, but young jaw-dropping bassist Jaco Pastorius rightfully gets most of the attention. His fluid, complicated yet seemingly effortless bass lines create some of this album’s most memorable moments. It’s not the ideal entry point into Mitchell’s discography, but once you immerse yourself in her music it can easily become one of your favorites. Revisiting it recently for the first time in nearly six years, I was reminded why it had such a strong impact on me. It still sounds like nothing else from its era and holds up extremely well for an album recorded four decades ago. Here’s what I wrote about it in Part 4 of my Joni series:

Jaco Pastorius only played bass on half of Hejira, yet he made his presence known, and he stepped it up a notch on the next album, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. In fact, musically speaking this is as much a Jaco album as it is Joni’s. The theme here seems to be decadence, with Joni exploring her wild side more than ever before. I should also point out that the “man” on the cover is actually Joni in disguise, apparently an alter ego named Art Nouveau. I never picked up on that until I started delving into her catalog and exploring the artwork along with the music. It was also Joni’s first double-LP, a trend that most popular artists explored in the 70s, and featured some of her most challenging material. Opener “Overture/Cotton Avenue” has some great chorused vocals reminiscent of David Crosby’s incredible If I Could Only Remember My Name album. The upbeat “Talk To Me” is musically close to some of her earlier folky work, but Jaco’s bass adds a spacey/jazzy element. “Jericho” is a slow-paced acoustic guitar-based song, where she wants her emotional walls to come down (a similar theme to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, which was still two years away).

The most divisive song among her fans must be the 16+ minute “Paprika Plains,” by far the longest song she had recorded. It’s mostly Joni on piano with an orchestra, until bass, drums & sax join in for a few minutes at the end. It also includes an extended instrumental section coinciding with a large portion of unsung lyrics, which are printed on the gatefold LP (I still only have this one on vinyl). I couldn’t figure out why she didn’t sing these lyrics, so I’m hoping one of my readers can enlighten me. My favorite section of the album begins with “The Tenth World,” a percussive instrumental with some wordless vocals at the beginning, which segues into the equally percussive “Dreamland,” an awesome song with a great hook in the “dreamland, dreamland” refrain, and featuring Chaka Khan on backing vocals.

“Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter” continues the percussion-driven theme of its two predecessors, adding some acoustic guitar and a deep bass note repeated on the fours throughout. “Off Night Backstreet” has a cool steady groove with some smooth harmony vocals from J.D. Souther and Glenn Frey. All in all, this is another fantastic album, but it takes time to uncover all of its charms.  At some point I’ll have to play this back to back with one of her first few albums to see just how drastically Joni had changed as an artist in less than a decade. Revisiting her albums in order these past couple of weeks, that change seems much more organic, but the difference might otherwise be jarring.

 

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16 comments on “Forty Year Friday – JONI MITCHELL “DON JUAN’S RECKLESS DAUGHTER”

  1. A great choice, Rich, and one of my ‘unsung’ favourites. ‘Jericho’ particularly still blows me away after all this time but I can also enjoy the album as a whole.

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  2. kevin
    June 23, 2017

    I love jazzy Joni. Although I don’t think this album is as strong as Hejira or Summer Lawns, it is still a fascinating listen. It conforms to nothing. A bit self-indulgent and meandering at times, but Joni can do that if she wants. Jaco was extraordinary.

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    • Hi Kevin. Glad you like this one as much as I do. I agree regarding those other two albums, which are higher up on my list of Joni favorites, but they’re all pretty special.

      Like

  3. Aphoristical
    June 23, 2017

    I think it’s a step down from her peak 1971-1976 work, mainly because it’s longer and less accessible, but it’s still very good. As a Joni Mitchell fan, I overlooked it for way too long.

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  4. Alyson
    June 23, 2017

    Was introduced to Hissing of Summer Lawns in the late ’70s so missed this era and went all retrospective and stuck with earlier Joni. Have found a new appeciation for her as we’ve both got older though and love the deeper voice she acquired in later life. Love her turn of the millennium version of Both Sides Now (but makes me so sad – this looking back at music nostalgically is not good for one’s mental health methinks).

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    • I was hoping we would connect with this one but it’s not one of her more popular efforts (and takes a while to fully appreciate). Glad you enjoy some of her other albums, and I agree with you regarding the deepening of her voice. The heartbreaking scene with Emma Thompson in Love Actually really captures the melancholy feeling of that recording.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        June 24, 2017

        First of all it was unlikely I would actually have ever purchased many of the albums from this year (when they came out) as I was still at school, so couldn’t have afforded them, but as it was one of the happiest years of my life, with music constant being played in the background there is always a good chance they would conjure up happy memories. Your excellent reviews always want me to investigate further the albums that escaped my attention, via geography, or perhaps gender, back in the day. FYF has been a great series for me so thanks.

        Joni didn’t really come to my attention until the student years but she then came back into my life after the Love Actually film. Emma Thompson is around the same age as me and although not for the same reasons, that melancholy scene really hit home. (Wrote a post about it last Christmas.)

        Thanks again and have a good weekend!

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      • Thanks, Alyson. I’m glad I can occasionally inspire you to revisit something you haven’t played in a while, or to check out something new. That works both ways. I’ll be on the road for a few days but I’m making a mental note to check out your post on Both Sides Now. Happy weekend.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Neil
    June 23, 2017

    This is the one I play most often, mainly because it seems to embrace the idea of being an artist without a net than any of her other albums. This is the one that cannot be contained. It’s also self indulgent and decadent as you say which is how I have always thought of Joni as a person, she seems to thoroughly immerse herself in life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Neil. Your description of her as “an artist without a net” is spot on, especially during this period of her career. Glad you agree about how wonderful this album is. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Vinyl Connection
    June 24, 2017

    I tend to reach for ‘Hissing’ and ‘Hejera’ for Joni goodness. Need to spend more time with this one. Thanks for the prompt.

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  7. zumpoems
    June 24, 2017

    Rich,

    Really like the range of your musical tastes. I am a big admirer of Joni Mitchell, thrilled by her collaborations with jazz artists, particularly with Mingus, who is one of my jazz heroes!

    FYI — I am stealing an idea from you as noted here, after stumbling on your site about a week ago.: https://zumpoems.com/2017/06/21/fifty-year-fridays/ — thanks for your inspiration and keep up the great posts!

    Like

    • Thank you, “Zumwalt.” I appreciate the kind words about my blog and musical tastes. I’m glad we have so much in common, and I’m honored that you took the “Forty Year Friday” concept (begin last year as a “Thirty Year Thursday” look back at 1986) and put your own spin on it. I just followed your blog and I look forward to checking out some of your posts as time permits.

      Best wishes,
      Rich

      Liked by 1 person

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