on January 21, 2006
By 1976 Joni Mitchell was something of an American singer-songwriter legend, and with good reason. In the previous nine years she had released some of the most critically-acclaimed albums of the rock era, and was certainly the most prolific female singer in the world. Her popularity increased in the mid-Seventies, and peaked with the release of her No.2 hit album "Court And Spark," which received several Grammy nominations. The folk sound that had dominated so much of her earlier was gradually receding with each album, so that by 1976's "Hejira," she was making music that many people saw as being more jazz/blues, when in actually fact it was nothing like it. It was Joni, pure and simple.
Now I have been listening very intensely to Joni Mitchell's music in the past four weeks, and I have to say she is the most honest and truthful voice I've ever heard. As Q-Tip stated on Janet Jackson's 1997 Joni-samping hit Got Til' It's Gone, "Joni Mitchell never lies!" The passion in her delivery is unrivalled, her persistence, her determination to get her point across, the range in her voice, her lyrics suspend me in a state of disbelief when I really listen. This woman painted with her voice and words. Hejira is easily my favourite album by this legend, and definitely one of the best albums I've ever listened to. If there is one album you should take on a road trip, it's this one! I can just imagine driving down the long, straight roads that carry on for hundreds of miles in the middle of nowhere and having this album as my constant companion.
The album opens with "Coyote," probably the most upbeat song on the album. It's a perfect opener and quite positive in tone. The lyrics in this work so well and I love the way Joni weaves them all together in such an untraditional way. The percussion makes this song quite light and is a great way to easy yourself into the beauty to come. Joni's voice is beautiful and I love the way she sings, "He's got another woman down the hall and he seems to want me anyway!" The bass on this song is brilliant and the rhythm guitar works well as an underbelly to the percussion. "Amelia" is a song loosely based around Amelia Earhart, the female pilot who set off on a flight in July 1937 never to return or be found. Joni is compelled to sing about her after seeing six jet planes leaving vapor trails across the bleak terrain sky as she drives down the burning desert. The imagery on this song is absolutely stunning and the sparse guitar work opens it up to expansive proportions. I love the lyrics because Joni can gently lull the listener into a state of peace and tranquility, "And I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust. I dreamed of 747's, over geometric farms. Dreams, Amelia, dreams and false alarms." This song was the first one that really stood out when I listened to the album for the first time. I still adore it, but I don't think it's my favourite of the nine songs on the album.
"Furry Sings The Blues" is definitely a contender for my favourite song on the album. I'm not even sure if I'd want to put the songs in any sort of order because it just works so well as an overall piece of art. Yes, art! Music like this can be described as nothing but extreme, high art. This song features the legend Neil Young playing the harmonica flawlessly. He makes this song what it is, along with Joni's voice of course. The lyrics are melancholy and sparse, about an old man who sings the blues for anyone who will listen. The imagery created in this gives me chills. It's old and its dated in the way something gets finer with age. "Ghosts of the darktown society come right out of the bricks at me. Like it's a Saturday night, they're in their finery, dancing it up and making deals. Furry sings the blues. Why should I expect that old guy to give it to me true?" The harmonica outro peaks into the night sky, gently growing more distant. "A Strange Boy" has taken quite a while to grow on me but it features some of the most memorable lyrics from the whole album, such as, "We got high on travel, and we got drunk on alcohol." The lyrics are just amazing, I can hardly say anything more. She knows exactly where to come in with the next line, exactly which instruments to put more emphasis on so that the meaning of her words resonates more with the listener, everything, she's just amazing.
The title track, "Hejira," is next and is another superb song. This song features the beautiful tone of a clarinet that adds a dark melancholy to the song. It would be perfect for driving down the desert in the middle of a rainstorm as bleak clouds gather above. It's almost seven minutes long and has some really beautiful lyrics, such as, "I'm porous with travel fever, but you know I'm so glad to be on my own! Still sometimes the slightest touch of a stranger can set up trembling in my bones! I know, no one's gonna show me everything. We all come and go unknown. Each so deep and superficial, between the forceps and the stone." Joni's voice is beautiful as usual, although sometimes I find it a little bit whiny on this song. It's just her heartache coming through, and it works brilliantly, but sometimes it grates a little on me. "Song For Sharon" is the epic masterpiece of the album around which everything else orbits. It's almost nine minutes in length, and will keep your attention for every single second. The guitar work is superb and has this spiralling effect that appears out of the darkness frequently. It's one of the most evocative, powerful things I've ever heard on record and they come in at just the right moment to emphasise the beauty in Joni's lyrics, especially right after she exclaims, "But all I really wanna do, right now is find another lover!" Joni also has her own voice as background vocals in a high-pitched Indian-American yelp that yodels over and over in a beautiful rhythmic pattern.
"Black Crow" is another fantastic song but probably my least favourite on the whole album. That's not to say that I dislike it, because I love it, it's very powerful, but I considered the rest of the songs and they were all slightly better than this one. It's a rather short song at just over four minutes in comparison to most of the other six/seven minute ones on here. In this song Joni sings about feeling like a black crow flying in a blue sky as she drives down the highway. The song also opens brilliantly with the guitar being rather dirty and more rhythmic than anything else on here. Joni's voice is also incredible especially when she sings, "I feel like that black crow flying in a blue sky!" A great song, which is followed by the gentle "Blue Motel Room." The entire album is a road trip for Joni, and this song represents a part of the journey where she is staying in a motel for a night or two. This is the most jazzy song on the album, and it's absolutely beautiful. The bass of this song just puts me in another world, and the acoustic guitar is very old-fashioned. In other words, the kind of song Norah Jones would dream to have written and recorded. Around the second minute Joni's voice becomes distorted and you can sense a real depth and atmosphere in the song.
The album closes with the awesome "Refuge Of The Roads." This is probably my favourite song on the album. I've listened to it so many times and I am just in awe of the musicianship. I broke down in tears last week when I listened to this early one morning last week because I just thought it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever experienced in my life thus far. Joni's voice is quite melancholy, and the lyrics are so evocative and vivid. I love it when she sings, "I pulled off into a forest, crickets clicking in the ferns. Like a wheel of fortune, I heard my fate turn, turn, turn." Horns are used to superb effect on this song especially towards the end. What really catches me is that this song is about the end of the journey, there's such a sense of completion, of sorrow and happiness all at once. It closes with one of the most beautiful lyrical verses I've heard: "In a highway service station, over the month of June, was a photograph of the earth, taken coming back from the moon. And you couldn't see a city on that marbled bowling ball, or a forest or a highway or, me here least of all. You couldn't see these coldwater restrooms, or this baggage overload, westbound and rolling, taking REFUGE in the roads."
OVERALL GRADE: 10/10
This album has blown me away, and it's nearly 30 years old. If music this old can do that to a young 18 year old like me, then it must be something special. How many people my age are into music like this? I'd like to bet not many. Joni Mitchell is a musical legend because of music like this and her legacy is preserved for eternity. As far as songwriters go, I don't think there's a better female in the history of music, which is why Joni is far and away the most important female artist of the 20th Century. It will be a sad, sad day when this woman dies but albums like this will be instantly set in stone for generations to come. I suggest you buy this now because you'll set off down that jet-black highway on your travels and never look back.
on March 15, 2003
I bought this album because I play bass and I learned that Jaco Pastorius played on it (I also got "Mingus" - "Don Juan's..." and "Shadows and Light" are on my wish list). Mr.Pastorius is a powerful presence on the songs he plays on, his melodic sense really empowers the music. But, I could not help but fall in love with Joni as an artist. Her songs most of the time seem to have no beat - the music seems to be floating around you. You almost feel like she is improvising a story right along with her guitar. I imagine her sitting by a campfire with her guitar, singing her stories all through the night. This aspect is to me, musically speaking, the one that really sets her apart. This is not verse/chorus/verse/chorus/guitar solo/chorus music. Joni takes you by the hand and guides you through the twists and turns of love, fate, loss, and the structure of the music (or apparent lack of it) reflects that perfectly.Of course, her voice itself is absolutely beautiful and evocative. Joni is one of the greatest musical talents of the XX century, and I don't think she has gotten all the recognition she deserves. Joni Mitchell is in a class by herself, and this album proves it beyond the shadow of a doubt.
on January 29, 1999
By the time of Hejira's release in November of 1976, Joni Mitchell had already established herself as one of the most gifted singers and composers in popular music. While "Blue" had validated her formidale reputation, each successive album -- For the Roses, Court & Spark, Miles of Ailes and The Hissing of Summer Lawns -- pushed Mitchell's star-maker machinery into high gear. She became what she ironically most feared: a bona fide celebrity whose only real peer, in an industry she mistrusted, was Bob Dylan. And so she fled. And, because of her consummate artistry in turning her life's ups & downs into music, she bestowed on us her finest work to date: the mournful, soulful, elegiac Hejira. This record, which is more than 20 years old, still remains as haunting and vivd as it did on the first listen. It remains her finest statement on the burden of being a successful woman without a family trying to quell the competing desires (in all of us) of the need for unbridled freedom and the beckoning of hearth and home. Hejira transports the listener to a bleak landscape peopled with crazy black crows, promiscuous coyotes, childhood girlfirends, Amelia Earheart, restless hitchhikers, blue motel rooms and one strange boy. With Hejira, Mitchell acheived what most songwriters hope to aspire to: a poignant musical piece which stands on it's own terms as masterful poetry. Even after the epic title track fades away, you can still feel those wheels turning...
on November 20, 2002
This album, released in 1976, is largely considered to be Joni's best. Joni alienated a lot of people with her previous album, 1975's "The Hissing of Summer Lawns." That album was lambasted by critics, leaving her very bitter. "Hejira" was very experimental but a bit more controlled. Here is a sound that is indigenous to Joni, you will never hear another album that sounds like this. The sound was described as being "as open and free as the Canadian prairies that spawned her." Joni herself says it has an "introspective, Buddhist quality." In late 1975, early 1976, Joni was driving alone from California to New York. Every time she stopped somewhere for the night, she would sit down and write a song. This is a song cycle about traveling, and the tales of the strange and not-so-strange people she met on the road, and also of different thoughts that came to mind. I'll tell you right now, you can sit down and listen to this album and appreciate the talent of the musicians, the beauty of Joni's lyrics, melodies, and arrangements, and the brilliance of her wild, out-there guitar tunings. But in order to really "get" this album, you have to travel a great distance along an unfamiliar route, by yourself, with this record playing. I've done this, and I can honestly say that I now appreciate the album on a great many levels. All of these thoughts really do come into your head. And I'll tell you, I lived parts of "Refuge of the Roads." Read along with the lyrics; I met a guy who drank and womanized but had some smart things to say. I also met a few drifters in a beach town (but I didn't wind up fixing dinner for them and Boston Jim). The title itself is pronounced hee-ZHEER-uh. It is an English word with Arabic roots meaning "leaving the dream no blame." Joni said that she was looking for a word that means the equivalent of "running away with honor." She joked "Exodus was taken, that belongs to Israel," and she found "hejira" while perusing the dictionary. And if you ask me, the album cover itself perfectly suits the album's content. Joni standing alone on an open stretch of land, cigarette in hand. It suits the introspective, solitary, brooding tone of the album. And the image of the road superimposed on her form means this to me: it seems to be Joni saying "You can say the miles I've traveled just by looking at me." Sorry to go on and on like this, but my love for this album knows no bounds. So in short, go buy it. Favorite tracks: "Coyote," "Amelia," "Hejira," "Refuge of the Raods."
on July 26, 2004
I had listened to Joni Mitchell's first 6 albums many, many times before I bought Hejira. I loved it instantly, but after listening to it for a few weeks I began to realize what was really going on. Joni Mitchell is famous for her confessional-type ballads, songs that let us know exactly what she is feeling. This confessional style became more and more refined and embellished with each album she released. It finds its culmination in Hejira. In this album, Joni has perfected this style-she makes amazing, heart-on-sleeve music without sounding the least bit childish, pretentious, or arrogant. Contrast this album with her first (Song to a Seagull) or any of the early ones and you'll know what I mean.
The lyrics here are certaintly the best I've ever heard. They simply have to be heard to be believed. Joni's singing of them brings out their quality even more-her timing is impeccable as well as her choice of register and dynamic level. It's obvious from listeing to Hejira that Joni Mitchell is one of the most intelligent people in the world of music. Listening to Hejira in light of her previous albums makes this album a historical and revelatory experience as well as pure musical and lyrical euphoria. You can easily see how JM has developed as a person, a musician, and a lyricist when listening to her albums in sequence.
In Hejira, her emotions and life experiences are sometimes in a sense masked by the theme of the song (Furry Sings the Blues, Blue Motel Room), but there are many songs that are purely Joni Mitchell's insights and expressions of emotion. The latter type of songs is best represented by the title track (a hejira is a flight to escape danger). In this song, there's really no theme, it's just Joni musing on different aspects of her life experiences. You will not hear a more searingly personal or revealing song in your life. After hearing Hejira, I feel as if I've known Joni Mitchell all my life when in reality I've never met her and probably never will.
Before you listen to this album, get JM's previous 7 albums and become familiar with them. Then when you hear Hejira, you'll simply be left in a state of awe. I'm only 20, but I find it difficult to see how popular music can be any better than this.
on March 18, 2006
Written during and after a cross-country journey from the east to her home in California in 1976, Joni Mitchell was singularly struck by the vastness of the world she was travelling and how it mirrored the things that were happening in her life at the time. Inspired by the things she saw and felt during this trip, she chose "Hejira" (or, exodus) as the title of the album documenting those recent thoughts.
Crafting a nine-song record of such grace and atmospherics such as she had not done previously, Mitchell's use of instruments was sparse but worked well in giving the album the airy and dreamlike quality that it cried out for. Strumming her electric in the pickless manner she prefers, Joni settled for jazz-style bass and a paucity of drums to create her studio canvas. Jaco Pastorius, the late, great bassist, played on four tracks, lending his distinctive skill to the proceedings.
"Coyote" plays off a redundant seven-chord tune, buttressed by Larry Carlton's restrained lead and Jaco's popping bass. The theme is a recrimination and later forgiveness of an unrepentant ladies' man who takes liberties with the protaganist, but shows just enough humanity to receive pity from her.
"Amelia" recounts a need by Mitchell to feel the kind of freedom that Amelia Earhart must have had while pursuing her aviation career. The juxtaposition of Mitchell's flights of fancy with the reality of Earhart's unknown fate serve to make this an outstanding track on the album.
"Furry Sings the Blues" focuses on a cantankerous, elderly blues player in the heart of Beale Street in Memphis who agrees to grudgingly play a song or two, provided he receives whiskey and tobacco in exchange. Mitchell employs fellow Canadian Neil Young to play a wistful harmonica lead throughout. Joni even manages to imitate the truculent musician, a touch of realism that grabs the listener intently. An A-one track!
Mitchell grows pensive over a tale of an old flame who couldn't settle into adulthood gracefully in "A Strange Boy." Her vocal overdubs in the background serve as a mournful wail over what could have been. The music is quiet, but never moves into the minor keys one might expect.
The title track is an explanation of reasons for escaping a "petty war." The music echoes the feelings of upheaval very well, with Patorius' bass rising and falling in the mix, and Abe Most's braying clarinet sounding much like a sigh of desperation. It's a melancholic song with interesting lyrics like "You know it has never been easy/Whether you do or do not resign/Whether you travel the breadth of extremities/Or stick to some straight line." Brilliant!
Mitchell presents "Song for Sharon" as an open letter explaining the differences between the two, but in the end celebrating the differences that make them who they are. Sharon is the one with the family and the farm, but the writer of the letter remains heartbroken but at the same time revelling in her independence. A surprisingly upbeat-sounding number where the music supports, but never tries to overcome, the conversational tone.
"Black Crow" is a slightly atonal tune comparing the protaganist's wearying journey while in pursuit of a career as being like a "black crow flying in a blue sky." Carlton's guitar screechs and blares over a stark landscape.
"Blue Motel Room" is light, smoky jazz played slowly and exquisitely, and echoing the promise of returning home to a lover who it is hoped has remained faithful. A tale of wanderlust presented in the fashion of a Peggy Lee ballad. A track of stolid beauty.
"Refuge of the Roads" ends the album on a cloud-borne high. Chuck Findley and Tom Scott add the only touches of brass on the album, bringing to life a song about characters and experiences unique to a journey of such length. The song is reminiscent of a feeling one gets when the end of an excruciatingly long car ride is in sight. A real pleasure!
One will not be overwhelmed by "Hejira" on the first listen, but on the strength of multiple listenings, one will get a better appreciation for this album. Mitchell's strenghts as a songwriter are well-evident, and her ability to convey her thoughts with her elastic voice is a plus. The music is difficult to categorize, covering as it does blues, jazz, and rock 'n' roll. A true artist can pull it off, however, and Joni does just that. "Hejira" is a supple classic that has stood the test of time.
on April 25, 2001
...this is the Joni that I'd grab going out the door. This is her first studio release with Jaco Pastorius. The collaboration is brilliant, Her soprano melody and His bass lines a "pas de deux" in every track. This is the only album that Joni wrote every track for guitar, none for piano, because she wrote these songs on the road. Hejira was the prophet Mohammed's exile journey from Mecca. Joni's Hejira, in this case, was a cross-country trip, by car, which began when she ended a love affair. This is consummate Joni, emotional honesty and insight into experiences we've all shared in our own way.
on October 20, 2004
As an avid Joni Mitchell listener since 1980, I must admit that this album is my favourite for so many reasons. The first time I heard it, I was drawn to its music and lyrics immediately, intuitively, before I knew anything about the album's history or creative process. I've often referred to it as "my desert island album", with the title track actually being my favourite song of all time - it's not easy to pick something like that, as I listen to a great deal (and variety/genres) of music.
The reasons I love this album are complex, not unlike the music itself. The lyrics are of course exceptional as always with Mitchell, but these have a particular quality of longing, melancholy, and wisdom that is somehow never heavy-handed or depressing...more insightful, or observational. The music is subtle, cyclical at times, and the resultant interplay is truly amazing. It's as though if one reads the lyrics they speak of music with this quality, and the music speaks of lyrics of this quality.
With this album, Mitchell once again also has the gift of capturing the times without ever sounding dated. Hejira was an appropriate title (sometimes technically referred to as Mohammed's flight from Mecca to Medina; but in this sense a broad but critical spiritual journey); as such this is the ultimate travel album, and listening to it is a spiritual journey. And "Album" is an appropriate word - like the photos of a trip, vignettes in our memory, experiences, thoughts, emotions they draw forth. I used to drive around 1200km every weekend through prairies to mountains and this was the soundtrack. As the years pass, each of the songs themselves have taken on special meaning and understanding at specific points of my life. I find it wonderful that there is so much positive feedback for Hejira at this point; it (and Hissing of Summer Lawns) wasn't as well received when released...people still wanted another Court and Spark - but every Joni Mitchell album is a new painting, she doesn't paint the same picture over and over, so they should have known better; critics without context.
Hejira is a true masterwork unlike anything else, and I sincerely believe it to be one of the great albums of the 20th Century. I struggle for comparisons to other's works, even Mitchell's. For me it has always sounded as poignant and fresh as the first time I heard it. You don't simply listen to this music; it washes through you, drifts around you but never lets go. It speaks with cohesion and depth to the witness of an important range of experiences, and I for one have been forever changed by it.
on February 4, 2005
Where to even start with "Hejira"? I am 35 years old, have been an avid music fan all my life, owned over 3,000 LP's and now have over 2,500 CD's - and in my opinion, "Hejira" is the absolute best CD ever released, period.
It's hard to put into words why this album speaks so personally to me and my fellow reviewers. Its musical landscapes, mostly carved through Joni's guitar and Jaco Pastorious' bass, are unlike anything that came before or since. The song structure - mostly free-form and only occasionally rhyming - is unconventional to say the least. Yet Joni's songs capture a mood and spirit of travel, introspection and yearning to fly that speak to the dream so many of us carry to leave the ground and soar like the "Black Crow" of Track 7.
If you have found yourself longing to fly, to explore avenues or life passages other than the ones you originally chose, or to travel with a different crowd that the one you think you ended up with (but trust me, you haven't "ended up" and you have the power to change everything! Listen to "Refuge of the Roads"), this album may speak to you in ways you can't shake, even 25 years after you first heard it. Try it out. You won't be sorry.
on May 26, 2000
Before purchasing this album, I had two of Joni's earlier, "folkier" albums which had great lyrics, but this album takes everything a step beyond. Using only a few instruments on each song, Joni manages to create HUGE wide open soundscapes that give the listener the feeling that they are travelling on an open road with nothing but the vastness of nature around them. The bass playing on this album is like nothing I've ever heard before; the bass is used as a melodic instrument instead of as a rhythmic one, which was totally against the trends of the late 70's (listen to any disco song and you'll see what I mean!). Joni was always ahead of her time, and each album she made was a quest to discover something new. This one is the greatest journey of all, because Joni discovers things about the world that we can all learn from (especially in the final song). While it's playing, "Hejira" takes me away and leaves me feeling like I actually know more about the universe then I did before I listened to it. How many albums can you say that about?