Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Compare and Contrast (An Occasional Series): Pretentious? Moi?

Okay, I'll grant you I was having a little fun with Joni Mitchell yesterday, which is admittedly easy to do, given all her hippie-Coyote Woman-Ladies-of-the-Canyon-patchouli-scented-stuff over the years. And yes, if you buy me a drink sometime, I'll do fifteen minutes on Joni's bedroom from a wonderful Architectural Digest coffee table book of Celebrity Homes from the late 70s, which is one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen in my life.

But seriously, people, I'm nonetheless just a tad surprised by a certain anti-Joni animus chez PowerPop.

C'mon -- her best stuff is emotionally devastating and musically gorgeous. Exhibit A: From 1971's Blue -- the exquisite confessional masterpiece "River." I mean, this is like a perfect art song.

And by way of demonstrating the essential sturdiness of the piece, from 2000 and the Ally McVeal Christmas Album, here's most interesting actor of his generation (and as it turns out a brilliant singer) Robert Downey Jr. with an out of left field cover. Which is even more of a heartbreaker, IMHO.

I go back and forth on which version I prefer, but in either case, you really would need the proverbial heart of stone to be snarky.

Well, that's what I think, anyway.


MBowen said...

She's one of the few icons of the 1970s I actually enjoy listening to.

Gummo said...

Joni's pre-pseudo-jazz stuff still holds up very nicely, I think. And that's about the best slit-your-wrists-for-the-holidays song there is.

A pity she destroyed her voice.

And I remember that Downey cover of River -- is there anything he can't do? He kept that show alive in its waning days.

steves said...

I also remember when that Ally episode aired. I was blown out of my socks--even went so far as to wake the wife in the next room because I couldn't believe the guy was so f***** talented!

As for Joni, it took me a while to appreciate her, but she is clearly a great artist in her own right. A bit too emotional at times, but hey! nobody's perfect.

Noam Sane said...

This song also gets a cover on that Herbie Hancock album that won the Grammy a few years back, very nicely sung by Corinne Bailey Rae.

Blue is a pretty amazing piece of work, beginning to end...but I'm more likely to put on Hejira or my personal fave, Wild Things Run Fast (I know I'm probably alone there.)

I guess she didn't help her voice with her smoking habit, but age is probably the main reason she doesn't have that contralto range any more.

Feral said...

Some of her compositions are deceivingly complex as well. They sound so simple on the surface, yet when you try to play along it takes a few tries to get the changes down, at least with my modicum of skill.

Noam Sane said...

She uses a lot of strange tunings, Feral. It's not your fault.

Walking Oliver Productions, Ltd said...

Well, I'm still going with Joni's own version. IMHO, Robert Downey Jr., although he's certainly a competent enough singer, still sounds to me like he's doing a poor Springsteen imitation. Which is who, by the way, I would love to hear sing this tune!

As far as my fave Joni album is concerned is a toss up between the sheer stunning brilliance of "Court and Spark" and the jazzier "Hejira." Both would go to my desert island.

steve simels said...

I actually thought "Dog Eat Dog" was really good.

Minority opinion, obviously...

Sal Nunziato said...

Wow! Downey's version is stunning. Thanks for this.

Unknown said...

The first thing to come to mind was Dave Van Ronk's cover of the song. Downey smooths out as the song goes on, but quite similar