Web review: Joni Mitchell edition

Ages ago (ok, back in April) I wrote my last blog post on a French biography of Joni Mitchell. And now with a new biography of Mitchell in English hitting the stores, several publications have been prompted to look back into a career that manages the feat of being genre-bending AND genre-defining.

The New-Yorker: Joni Mitchell’s Openhearted Heroism

Men often wanted Mitchell to be a wife, a muse, a siren, or a star. Instead, they got a genius, and one especially suited to deconstructing their fantasies of her.

The Ringer : Joni Mitchell: Fear of a Female Genius

Over a singular career that has spanned many different cultural eras, she explored—in public, to an almost unprecedented degree—exactly what it meant to be female and free, in full acknowledgement of all its injustice and joy.

No Depression: Like Me, She Had a Dream to Fly

Whatever Joni’s misgivings were about the feminist movement, her music forced the world to make space for the full breadth of women’s ideas and experiences. And my understanding of Joni Mitchell – and, in truth, my understanding of most things – is impossible to separate from my knowledge of women’s struggle for equality. It’s hardwired in the way we forgive Neil Young or Bob Dylan their charming late-career cantankerousness while calling Joni “bitter,” or the way we praise Joni’s beautiful singing voice and confessional songwriting before considering her formidable chops as an experimental composer, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer.

And a belated happy birthday to Mitchell who turned 74 on Nov 7th.


Every goddam reason Joan Baez is Rock and Roll

Let’s face it, she DOES belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She’s never really gone electric, she got famous singing British ballads and the occasional country tune, and you can’t really compare her lifestyle to that of Janis Joplin. But if the definition of folk music is today elastic enough to accommodate acts like Mumford & Sons or First Aid Kit that rely more or less heavily on electric guitars, basses, drums and synths… then Rock & Roll can live with Baez as a high priestess.Baezprotest

1) Because she’s “a Secret Badass”

I mean, come on, when even Rolling Stones calls you Badass, you belong to any Rock and Roll pantheon.

In 2010, when she was invited to perform at a White House celebration of music from the civil-rights era, Baez refused a request, from Michelle Obama, to sing “If I Had a Hammer.” “That is the most annoying song,” Baez says. “I told them, ‘If I had a hammer – I’d hit myself on the head. Ain’t gonna do it.’ ”

The article goes on to prove (as if proof was needed) that Baez is as relevant today as she was back in the sixties, leading the way as a protest singer (for Civil Rights and against Vietnam War in the sixties, to Standing Rock and Women’s marches in the late 2010s through Sarajevo in the 1990s.

2) Because she “rocked the folk world”

She got her start in Boston, and the Boston Globe hasn’t forgotten it. Recalling those early days, the journalist writes:

Almost overnight, Baez was a sensation, attracting a following of motorcycle-riding Harvard boys. When she made her second appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1960, she showed up in a hipster’s hearse, with a biker escort. She was the “Rebel Queen,” wrote Rooney and Von Schmidt.

Yup, before Dylan went electric at Newport, Baez went biker chick (chic?) The article of the Globe focuses on Baez’ rock and roll personality and style of performance, which belies the image she used to give.

3) Because she’s an “American Master”

A little older now (2009), this hour-long documentary follows Baez’ musical and militant career. Watching her walk to school with Black kids in Birmingham or walk among the ruins of eastern Europe, it’s hard to ignore the drive and the implication of Baez who’s sweet pristine soprano (in her early days) does little to hide her drive and iron determination to make the world a better, fairer place. And if going against the system for such reasons isn’t rock and roll, then nothing is.s

4) Because she wrote Diamonds and Rust:

Finally, the best proof that Baez is indeed Rock and Roll is perhaps her most famous song, Diamonds and Rust. Ironic and disenchanted, this tune written and composed by Baez has been covered by Judas Priest and Ritchie Blackmore’s band, thus proving that it belonged to the rock and roll canon. The way Baez sings it today, with her voice fully using its lower register, gives it even more grit.

5) Because Patti Smith said so:

If Patti Smith invites you to rock, you ARE rock.

She was suddenly among us, not claiming to lead but leading by example, guiding us towards a new path of creative expression synonymous with activism civil rights and the anti war movement. 16th century had their Joan of Arc, and we have our Joan Baez. – Patti Smith

Weekly roots review

First installment of a round-up of folk/roots/Americana related news. Which incidentally only features female artists (making my own Women’s March over the Digital Realm of Americana.)

“Kungfu-Appalachian Indie-folk-rock”
When you manage to gather three artists whose name all begin by W, it’s always worth starting a band. Especially when those artists can mix banjo, guitar, trumpet, piano and traditional Chinese stringed instruments like guzheng. That’s the idea behind the Wu Force, the trio made up by Abigail Washburn (banjo/cello banjo/cello), Kai Welch (piano, guitar, trumpet, looping station/vocals) and Wu Fei (guzheng). Their self-titled EP was released on January 27th and is available for preview on souncloud right here. Fans of Washburn have already seen her collaborating with Welch and, she’s already performed with Wu-Fei. Therefore, the Appalachian-Asian mix of the trio shouldn’t feel too surprising.

Banjo blues

Blues/folk artists Valerie June picks up her Gold Tone banjo to perform Got Soul, from the latest album The Order of Time on CBS. She also performed a few other tunes from the same album such as Astral Plane or Shakedown. But this blogger is always partial to the banjo.

Once a protest singer…

Recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Joan Baez gave an interview to Rolling Stone about her playing at the Women’s March of San Francisco. She isn’t apparently too fond of Madonna’s speech, as you can read here.

No beer no liquor for miles around

The genius of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings doesn’t need any form of introduction. After releasing a double album of bootlegs of their 1996 debut Revival, they’ve just dropped an adorably quirky stop-motion music video for a song they never released previously, the drinking song Dry Town.

Women and guitars

Although that could be the wet dream of many an Americana aficionado, it’s actually a feature by Acoustic Guitar about female artists, guitar players or luthiers that focuses on their relationship with the guitar.Aforementioned Valerie June and Gillian Welch are interviewed among other Americana leading figures like Rosanne Cash, Melissa Etheridge of Ani DiFranco, and a couple other female artists-luthiers or classical guitarists.  They discussed the challenges of making it into the industry and not being pigeonholed due to one’s gender.

Not one to mince her wordsmargo-price-2-1

If you’ve listened to Midwestern Farmer’s Daughter, you’ll not be surprised that Margo Price is as frank in her interviews as she is in songs like This Town Get Around or Hands of Time. A delightfully honest interview/album review is available on the Independent.