Most helpful positive review
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Not Just For Musicians, But Highly Technical
on August 21, 2009
It's about time someone did a book like this on Joni Mitchell (there have been several biographies, none of them especially illuminating). I'm a musician of the most amateur sort, with little formal training, so much of this detailed analysis of Mitchell's songs went right over my head. But what I've taken away from it is an even greater admiration for Mitchell's singular genius. She is not classically trained and doesn't "write" music. Brought home by THE MUSIC OF JONI MITCHELL is the possibility that this lack of technical knowledge actually freed her to explore all kinds of things that a formal background may have hampered. She admits to some difficulties, particularly with regard to her ability to communicate with her accompanying musicians at times, but her incredible catalog of music, going all the way back to the beginning, is like no other artist's in popular music (and there will never be her like again). Most importantly, what becomes clearer for me is how Mitchell makes choices about keys, chord changes and various modes, all in service to her poetry. She may be an experimental musician in the best sense: her decisions are rarely, if ever, random, even as they emerge from a process that often avoids established pop song conventions. This purposeful exploration of musical possibility, as the book clearly illustrates, is what elevates Mitchell above most of her peers, and places her light years ahead of most contemporary pop singers. She does not possess the most beautiful voice, nor does it have the flexibility it once did, due to years of heavy smoking -- but then, she has never been about showing off her vocal prowess, formidable as it has been in the past. Few cover versions of Mitchell's songs can top her own recordings, even when they are more vocally spectacular or polished. Whitesell makes frequent reference to how Mitchell's singing style works in harmony with her music and her words, and how she takes particular care in phrasing; in other words, where she places vocal emphasis in performance.
Mr. Whitesell's thorough overview is fascinating, but rather dry in places, despite an obvious passion for his subject. Caution is advised to the reader who knows little about music, but wants to know more about Joni Mitchell, the person. However, much is revealed about her as an artist in the pages of this remarkable book, which includes a number of direct quotes from Joni Mitchell herself.