ROTW: Joni Mitchell – The Hissing Of Summer Lawns

For many music fans, mentioning Joni Mitchell immediately evokes memories of ‘Blue’ and ‘Court And Spark’ – two albums that arguably best epitomise Mitchell’s progression from folk exponent to pop star.

Not either of those albums is really pop in the strict sense of the word. But they did make the Canadian singer/songwriter a star, while establishing her as a powerful, individual and increasingly inventive voice.

And then came ‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns’. More than four decades after its 1975 release, the album still comes across as fresh and fascinating.

The critics, expecting a further progression into the realm of easy-listening, dreamy pop, were dismayed. But listening to Court And Spark now, there are already indications of a change of direction – one that becomes abundantly, gloriously apparent on The Hissing Of Summer Lawns.

The tragedy of all those negative reviews is that they will have prevented many would-be fans from listening to the album. And if anything, this is a record that encourages – no, demands – repeated listening.

It’s also a set that should be heard in its entirety: the ebb and flow of the music, the lyrical and musical narrative, can only be appreciated when listening to the 10 tracks sequentially.

Mitchell’s lyrics are as meticulously crafted as they are powerfully provocative. They’re stories of relationships, told with keenly observed, almost intimate detail.

The jazz influences first hinted at on Court And Spark are in full swing here: there’s a sense of adventure and experimentation, although never to the level of inaccessibility the record’s critics alluded to all those years ago.

Yes, it’s different, but there’s an unerring commitment to melody – and especially rhythm – that is as fascinating as it is immersive. There’s a freeform approach to the lyrics and the music accompanying it, but never in a way that becomes jarring or confrontational.

Instead, each song unfolds as a thing of beauty, presenting a captivating flow of images and melodies. Yes, those looking for the logical, three-minute max, hit machine structure of pop songs will be disappointed.

What you get instead are thrills and surprises at every turn: key changes, beat swaps and a melange of styles and influences that vary from the Burundi drums of ‘The Jungle Line’ to Joe Sample’s foot-tapping piano on ‘Harry’s House – Centrepiece’.

The cast of musicians has plenty of spark, too: David Crosby, James Taylor, Robben Ford, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, John Guerin and Wilton Felder are among the luminaries contributing to the album’s multi-faceted sound.

Mitchell’s sleekly passionate, assured and perfectly measured vocals are the only consistent element against a constantly changing musical backdrop. And frankly, it’s all too much to take in after just one listen: this is a set that never ceases to reveal new elements and nuances.

This Rhino/Warner Group reissue on 180g vinyl, remastered by Chris Bellman, really brings the music to life, linking a clean pressing to clear sonics that allow the varied textures and hues of the album to come to the fore with vivid intensity.

Performance: 9,5
Recording: 8
Pressing: 8,5
Artwork/cover: 8
Price: R320
Supplied by: Audio Nut