Joni Mitchell: Love Puts On a New Face
I divide Joni Mitchell’s career in my mind into three distinct periods. These are not even divisions by time, but rather periods where Mitchell tried various modes of expression. The first, early period is the one most people know her for, and her mode was the folk-based confessional songwriting that gave rise to the singer-songwriter movement. The second period is Mitchell’s jazz period, starting with the album The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and ending with Shadows and Light. In her songwriting, Mitchell turned away from her confessional mode, in favor of storytelling. Mitchell’s late period began with Wild Things Run Fast. Here, Mitchell decided to try her hand at rock n’ roll, with mixed results. Some of the more uptempo songs from this period are almost hard rock, a style that fits Mitchell uncomfortably. But some of the quieter moments are overlooked gems, and as fine as anything in her catalog. The late period also has some fine poetry by Mitchell, but there are also songs that are little more than angry screeds.
Love Puts On a New Face is one of the overlooked gems from this late period. There are only three players on the song, Wayne Shorter on soprano sax, Greg Leisz on pedal steel, and Mitchell on guitar and keyboards. There are no drums. Together, the band creates a wash of sound that shifts like a thing alive. The lyric is a wonderful poem, presenting three stages of a relationship in three stanzas. The song features key lines that come just before the chorus: “What a pocket of heavenly grace” becomes “Some bad dreams love can’t erase” becomes “I long for your embrace”. It’s brilliantly economical piece of storytelling, and Mitchell hit’s the right emotional chord. As brilliant as her folk and jazz periods were, I can’t imagine Mitchell doing a song with this kind of feel in her earlier days.
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