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4.8 out of 5 stars
Court and Spark
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90 of 96 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
The verdict of history is the "Court & Spark" is the album where the "real" Joni Mitchell let loose. On previous albums like "Clouds" and "Blue" she had played piano and guitar, certainly appropriate for her folk roots. But for this album Mitchell brought in Tom Scott's jazz-rock band the L.A. Express. "Raised on Robbery" was the first single released from the album and certainly introduces the "new" Joni Mitchell to the world. How many other songs do you know with hockey references? But notice how the title song opens the album with just the sound of a piano, making the listener think this is still the "old" Mitchell. Of course, "Help Me" and "Free Man in Paris" are the best-known tracks (I consider the latter the quintessential Joni Mitchell song), representing the fact that Mitchell's romantic side tended to be more popular than her quirky fun side (although who can forget "Twisted" once they hear it?).
The final pair of lines of the chorus from "Help Me"--"We love our lovin'/But not like we love our freedom"--may well be the most insightful into Mitchell's work. Maybe it is because I have been looking over sonnet forms lately, but it suddenly strikes me that Mitchell is one of the premier writers of couplets in American music. Think about it: "We are stardust we are golden/And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden"; "They paved paradise/Put up a parking lot"; "Stoking the star maker machinery/Behind the popular song"; "I wish I was a river/I could sail away on."
Mitchell is a singer/songwriter's singer/songwriter. This is why there are so many covers of songs like "River" and why David Crosby, Graham Nash, Robbie Robertson, Jose Feliciano, and even Cheech & Chong show up for this one. It goes without saying that the cover painting for "Court and Spark" is done by Joni Mitchell.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 1999
Format: Audio CD
"Court And Spark" is most definitely Joni Mitchell's transitional album, from wistful and haunting songstress/writer to edgy, bittersweet visionary. At first listen, it's so musically melodic and catchy you can pass it off as great dinner music. But once the reality sets in at the appropriate time, this album rubs your face in the sand. There is cynicism here. "Trouble Child" is one of the most haunting and bitter songs I have ever heard. The title track is almost a last flirtation with her "Blue" period. "Help Me" is beautiful pop about blissful confusion. "Free Man In Paris" is great tale about a mogul's exaustion and cravings of personal freedom (Geffen, perhaps?). "People's Parties", "The Same Situation", "Down To You" & "Car On A Hill" are all self-explanatory. "Raised On Robbery" and her cover of Wardell Gray's (via Annie Ross) "Twisted" pre-date punk rock with plenty of attitude and "don't **** with me" vibes. I first had this album when I was nine, then got back into it during my early 80's punk era. Now I've rediscovered it with new eyes. She's up there with people like Black Sabbath and Iggy Pop...people that you wish you could hear more of on the radio (besides the hits), but these days are sadly underplayed. Make a difference and buy this timeless scripture. Then buy "Hissing of Summer Lawns" and "Hejira" and you'll round up a trio of highly appreciated and misunderstood 70's Joni Mitchell masterpieces. There's more to the story behind the lilt!!
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 1999
Format: Audio CD
If there is one Joni Mitchell album to own this is likely it. Her singing, writing, and playing are all terrific. This music marked a break with her past work and with the pop trends of the time, and alluded to her future work. Even today it remains a timeless album. People sometimes lament that Joni has never written another "C and S". Well, that come from then, no other time. Her other work has been different, and remarkable, it is just not the unique product of those incredible times, and one moment of an artist's journey as is "Court and Spark".
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
For over thirty years Joni Mitchell has been a source of consistent amazement among her legions of fans. In a hundred years, when someone wants the perfect example of a stellar and singularly talented singer/songwriter and a peripatetic innovator of 20th century music, they will dust off any of a dozen of Joni Mitchell's albums and give it a spin. This album is an example of her ability to subtly change styles and approaches, fusing jazz and blues to her popular venue, resulting in a captivating and quite arresting collection of my personal favorites. My personal favorites here are early in the song cycle, including her smash hit "Free Man In Paris", "Help Me", and of course, Court And Spark" itself. Moreover, the rest of the songs are excellent, as usual for Ms. Mitchell. From beginning to end this song cycle is an ardent but soft-spoken exploration of her internal landscape, a tour of her thoughts and feelings about the state of contemporary relationships.
Taken in total, the song cycle represents a sort of informal inventory of all her feelings and emotions about herself, her close friends, and the world at large. Never one to stand still, this album was the worthy successor to both the immensely popular "Blue" and the even more intimate and eclectic "For The Roses". Each of these three albums is both unique and quite different from the others, and as a body of work illustrates her fantastic creativity and ability to change style s and venues like so many suits of stylish clothing. Her in particular Mitchell's gorgeous and intricate lyrics, melodies and acoustic guitar arrangements meld into the strings, horns, and piano work to create an indescribably beautiful work. As with her other work, this album shows Joni at her apex, full of hope, compassion, and with all her creative juices flowing. For folk fans and people just interested in one of the best albums to have come out of her unforgettable stable of mysteries, this is an essential album. Enjoy.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2003
Format: Audio CD
Despite the many accolades by current artists that I admire, until recently I didn't give Joni Mitchell much thought. Her biggest commercial success was during the 70s when I was a child and if she registered at all on my radar, it was as an earnest guitar strumming folk singer in the Judy Collins mode.
One day, I was in the supermarket of all places when Help Me came on over the loudspeaker. I remembered the song from my childhood but some reason on that day, the song's vocal and instrumental arrangements had me totally entranced. I actually avoided getting in line until it was over. Soon after, I had to buy Court and Spark even though it had been probably 30 years since its initial release.
Ever since, this CD has stayed on regular rotation. The songs have aged well. My favorites are Help Me and Free Man In Paris, a song to which I can relate even though I'm not a music mogul a la David Geffen. Other favorites include Court and Spark, People's Parties and Twisted.
Mitchell's storytelling is strong and her musical intuition is sharp. In retrospect, one can hear her jazz leanings and understand that she was already headed toward a more experimental phase in her later recordings.
If you can't understand why baby boomers complain that music is not what it used to be, pick up Court and Spark to see what they're talking about.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
`Court and Spark' by Joni Mitchell is Ms. Mitchell's sixth album. It's songs fall somewhere between the highs of `Ladies of the Canyon' and the anonymity of the works on `Blue'. The cover cites at least three `hits': `Raised on Robbery', `Help Me', and `Free Man in Paris'. While I recall being aware of all three of these numbers on the radio back in the mid-1970s, none of them have the amperage of `Woodstock' or `Ladies of the Canyon' from the album of the same name.

I don't think this means the songs on `Blue' are not as good or that the high powered sidemen (Graham Nash and David Crosby among them) on `Court and Spark' made a really big difference. `Court and Spark' simply has more popular songs with somewhat spiffier arrangements.

The `Raised on Robbery' selection is a perfect example of a tune and an arrangement specifically designed to increase the popularity of the album among the broader record buying public. It is a perfect model of the kind of song the Pointer Sisters and Bette Mindler brought back from the 1930s and 1940s. I had to look twice to verify that the song was a Joni Mitchell original and not a freshened version of something from Cab Calloway or Count Basic. `Help Me' and `A Free Man in Paris' are both much more similar to Mitchell's usual style.

Aside from Mitchell's terrific talent for description that I have noted in reviews of other albums, this album shows a truly remarkable range of personal experience. If Ms. Mitchell has not gone through these life experiences herself, her empathy with someone who has must be truly amazing. There are no songs here based on children's drawings or circus posters (See `Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' and `For the Benefit of Mr. Kite').

I have not reviewed all of Ms. Mitchell's albums, but I recommend you put this title near the top of your list, and stay away from the `Best of' collections, especially since Ms. Mitchell rarely covers other artists, so you don't want to miss any of her less popular pieces.

Highly recommended.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2007
Format: Audio CD
When this album came out (I was in high school at the time) I heard that Joni Mitchell had decided to do a "pop album"... and take a break from her folk roots. The fact is, she pulled it off -- and still kept her intelligent and somewhat complex lyrics. The fact that a singer/songwriter could produce such a masterful album -- with lyrics and melodies that unfold deeper and deeper upon each listening -- shows what an enormous talent this performer is. The roads she took after this point show even more how talented she is, as she explored other genres of music. Personally, I always come back to 'Court and Spark' -- it feels like home, and yet I hear something new and appreciate it more every time I hear it. One of the best albums of all time. Unforgettable.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2003
Format: Audio CD
Joni Mitchell has been a driving force in music for several decades and has released many albums during her career. Her uniquely beautiful & wide-ranging tenor voice is mesmerizing and exquisitely demonstrated in her album "Court and Spark", which was originally released in 1973. It has been and continues to be one of my favorite albums by her. Its subtle, jazzy sounds express a multitude of emotions including love, melancholy, joy and freedom. My descriptions and ratings (out of 5 stars) of each song follow.
1. "Court and Spark" (5). Nicely paced jazzy piano, light percussion and Joni's jazzy voice accompanied later by guitar.
2. "Help Me" (5+). Very jazzy lyrics about love, fast guitar with medium percussion, a flute and choral accompaniment; joined later by a tenor saxophone.
3. "Free Man in Paris" (5+). Flute, guitar and percussion begin this fast paced song about being free from the responsibilities of the music industry.
4. "People's Parties" (5). Slower song beginning with acoustic guitar and very light percussion accompanying lyrics about going to various aimless parties. Strong deeper pitched choruses.
5. "Same Situation" (5+). Flowing from the previous track, taken over by piano and light percussion accompanying Joni's powerful lyrics about relationships. Soft & emotional instrumental ending.
6. "Car on a Hill" (4.5). This song marks a slight harmonic departure from the previous tracks. Saxophones begin this song with light percussion and guitar about waiting for a boyfriend to come home. Includes several tempo changes at the end.
7. "Down to You" (4.5). A complex song that begins with a slow and expressive piano to accompany Joni's melancholic lyrics. Various string instruments later join at a slightly faster tempo, giving away again to the piano, but enjoined later by a choral accompaniment, giving way to a lengthy instrumental interlude of various string, brass and woodwind instruments.
8. "Just Like This Train" (4.5). Guitar, woodwind and light percussion begin this slightly faster and more upbeat song. Enjoined later by a choral accompaniment.
9. "Raised on Robbery" (4). A fast song reminiscent of 1940's big band harmonies set against rock & roll, seemingly out of place slightly in context with the other songs.
10. "Trouble Child" (4.5). A slower, melancholic song with guitar, light percussion, keyboards and muffled trumpets.
11. "Twisted" (4.5). A faster blues song flowing from the previous song, with muffled trumpets, light percussion and guitar accompanying very jazzy vocals.
Overall, I rate Joni Mitchell's album "Court and Spark" with 5 out of 5 stars. After 30 years, this album is very fresh and by no means dated.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
Dame Joni entered a new phase with "Court and Spark". Yes, she had designed album covers before, and yes, she had written self-confessional lyrics that beckoned the listener to peek inside her world, but this album also invites the listener to expand his horizons to include the jazz inflections she is eager to explore.

The content is clever enough; looking from the outside in as the "Me" generation spiraled down from idealistic utopia to self-conscious examination, Mitchell never fails to deliver. The tongue-in-cheek finale, " Twisted", a remake that trumps the original, was just the ironic bit of humor needed to lighten, yet encapsulate, the bulk of the songs. Society was becoming emerged in the analysis movement, and Joni captured that sentiment in her usual poetic fashion.

The flourishing arranging of the music is what marks this effort as somewhat of a departure. Where most of her early work relied on sparse instrument intrusion, "Court and Spark" continues the experiment of jazz fusion that was hinted at on " For the Roses". This trend continued throughout the rest of her work in the seventies, but the first try was the best product, although "Hejira" is a strong contender. Never one to shy away from changing tempos, Mitchell did an excellent job of produding a hybrid that stands the test of time. The thought provoking lyrics that fans were used to, combined with the horn section led by Tom Scott, resulted in a listening experience that took things in a new direction, but in a most intelligent way.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2002
Format: Audio CD
I originally bought "Court and Spark" at the time it was first released in 1974. It was a glorious piece of work for the time, and it has stood the test of time very well.
It still packs a powerful emotional wallop with timeless romantic themes, richly and honestly expressed. But the musicianship is stunning as well: impeccable arrangements, unique and interesting rhythms and luscious, unusual harmonies. All of the skillful accompanying musicians seem to appreciate the caliber of the work and all make an appropriate contribution. I've heard this album dozens of times, and it has never bored me on any occasion.
The technical quality of the recording is also very good, rounding out a project where great attention was clearly given to every detail.
This album deserves to be enjoyed by new fans for many years to come. I hope that happens. Very few who give this album a careful listen will be disappointed.
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