|Joni Mitchell - Refuge of the Roads|
|Written by Jeff Fish|
|Tuesday, 24 August 2004|
Joni Mitchell will probably always be associated with the West Coast acoustic music scene that she helped popularize in the late ‘60s. Along with Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judy Collins and James Taylor, Mitchell was at the forefront of an acoustic awareness that was making waves in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. But Mitchell was also a fan of the late great jazz bassist Charles Mingus. Her albums of the mid-‘ 70s were some of the most evocative of that era, giving rise to such great musicians as Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius and Lyle Mays. Throughout the decade and well into the ‘80s, Mitchell could be counted on to sell out almost any venue and her music continued to evolve. Her 1979 tour was well documented on the DVD “Shadows and Light.” The new release “Refuge of the Roads” documents Mitchell’s tour in 1983 with then-new husband Larry Klein and his band while promoting her new album “Wild Things Run Fast.”
The concert footage was shot on a soundstage, except there wasn’t an audience there to witness or hear it. I would like to have seen this band with an audience in front of it, since the playing on this disc is really good. The concert scenes are interspersed with 8mm home movie footage that Mitchell and Klein filmed while on tour, along with some eclectic film footage that occasionally makes an appearance. For example, the first song on this DVD is “Wild Things Run Fast.” The band is positively cooking and Michael Landau is tearing up the fretboard, but we’re watching two wild horses battling in the surf. Scenes like this keep popping up throughout this release; visually, this DVD is a little iconoclastic, which in itself isn’t a bad thing, just something worth knowing going in. Musically, the band is topnotch and very well recorded. As I mentioned earlier, Mitchell has always had a penchant for surrounding herself with excellent musicians and this band is no exception: Russell Ferrante on keyboards (The Yellowjackets), Klein on bass (with producer credits a mile long), Landau on guitar (session player extraordinaire) and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums (session player and Frank Zappa’s late 70’s early 80’s bands).
The music on this disc is heavily weighted towards the Wild Things Run Fast album, which was new when the footage was shot. This wasn’t one of Mitchell’s biggest sellers, so if you’re not a big fan, some of these songs may not be familiar to you, but don’t let that stop you from checking out this disc. The playing and mix are really nice, plus the selections that they do play are really good songs. This is at a time where Mitchell was keeping one foot in jazz while taking a more pop approach to her songwriting. There are some songs that you may remember on this disc, though: “Woodstock," "For Free" and "Raised on Robbery.” My personal favorites from this disc are “Raised on Robbery,” “Refuge of the Roads,” “For Free” and “Woodstock,” the latter being a very different take on a song that many people know as CSNY’s tribute to that most famous concert in upstate New York in August of 1969. But did you know that Mitchell wrote that song? Her take here is very intimate. In fact, the last four or five songs on this disc made me feel almost like I was in the same room with her. The home movies that appear in this release also add a sense of humor to this disc, which was a nice touch. The photo gallery also has a bunch of candid shots, which in itself is a nice glimpse into the touring life of that band.
In my opinion, Joni Mitchell never really got the accolades that she so richly deserves. I don’t know how to describe her voice as anything other than beautiful, with her lyrics those of a gypsy heart. Maybe she was just too far ahead of her time. Lilith Faire artists seem to have taken entire chapters from Mitchell’s career and make themselves a whole lot of money and fame based almost firmly on what she did 20 years ago. It’s the trendsetters who get left behind occasionally, but in Mitchell’s case, this would be a travesty. While this disc may not be for everyone, it is for those of you who would like to remember the days when a woman could front a really good band, play guitar and sing – all at the same time, no lip-syncing here. Let’s leave that for Britney, Ashley and Christina.