Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The many shades of blue

In a world where we like everything to fit into neat categories it can sometimes be hard for us to deal with things with blurred boundaries. But blue, unlike black and white, is a colour with many shades - and a whole lot of them appear on Joni Mitchell's classic album Blue - an album that, to me at least, seems to defy any attempt to put it in a box. The songs on this album, usually with little more than a guitar or a piano to accompany Joni Mitchell's amazing voice, wandering all over the place from high sporano to throaty folk, seem to belong to their own world.

It's a world full of sadness, but always, in every song, mixed with something special and unique - like the hope that walks, hand in hand, with the hurt of "All I want"; or the blend of sad, sad loss with the gentle beauty of new life in "Little Green", where a young mother gives her newborn baby girl up for adoption; or the sense of sad resignation in the title track; or the poignant hints of "Jingle Bells" in "River", a song about sadness at Christmas.

It's all shades of blue, and they are all conveyed with the simplest means - just a sparse accompaniment, and that incredibly pure voice, turning speech into music, with its free rhythms and its melodies that just refuse to be tied down. These songs make you feel that music was always how things were meant to be said.

I guess we have learned to think of blue as a sad colour and, certainly, all of the songs on this album are sad. But it's a sadness which, like the music itself, is fluid, beyond definition or containment. It's a sadness which you feel like embracing, not escaping - and all because of the music, the way it just sounds so incredibly, unaffectedly human. On this album blue is a warm colour.

I think for me it was, ultimately, the intimacy and the honesty of these songs that captured me so totally. It's like sitting down and listening to someone tell you their story, just to you and no one else.

Thank you, Neal, for sharing the Blue with me.

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