[Review] Joni Mitchell: For The Roses (1972)

A naturally brilliant but audibly deflated work that brings Joni’s jazzier sensibilities to the fore at the expense of a little joy.

Kronomyth 5.0: Come with Me, I Know the Way, It’s Down, Down, Down.

After Blue, well, anything was bound to be a bit of a letdown, no? For The Roses is a bit of a letdown. It’s both a step back in its dry arrangements and a step forward in the jazzy and elusive melodies sweetened (ever so slightly) by the appearance of woodwinds and horns. There are a handful of excellent songs on here (“See You Sometime,” “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire,” “Electricity,” “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio”), but you’ll find armfuls of the stuff on the albums before and after.

Gone is the dulcimer, which warrants a moment of silence in memoriam. (Waits one moment while looking nervously at the wall.) Joni returns to the acoustic piano and acoustic guitar, with the caveat that Joni’s piano pieces seem unnecessarily difficult this time around. The opening “Banquet,” for example, reminds me why I don’t listen to a lot of Tori Amos. “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” introduces the new wrinkle in the arrangements: woodwinds (courtesy of Tom Scott). They drift in and out on For The Roses, like house guests walking into a late-night kitchen conversation looking for something sweet, entering and leaving without a word.

While Joni the Arranger scores points for the jazzy twists and turns on tunes like “Barangrill” and “Let The Wind Carry Me,” Joni the Singer is less impressive on Roses. On Blue, she was transcendent. You’ll warm up to her on the second side with “Electricity,” “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio,” “Blonde in the Bleachers” and “Woman of Heart and Mind,” but nothing reaches the aching yearning of “California” or “A Case of You.” Of course, it would be unfair to compare most albums to Blue; Roses, unfortunately, requires it.

Now, had Blue never existed, Roses might be seen as the next logical step between Canyon and Court. It feigns toward the full-time accompaniment of Court and adds stronger elements of jazz, yet the wounded poetess at the piano remains. Blue, however, soared where Roses hovers like a ghost much of the time. It’s still the work of the same musical genius, only the freedom and discovery of her last album seem to be replaced by the licking of old wounds and the lacking of new lovers. You’ll want to hear this at some point, but I put Blue, Court and Canyon on a higher pedestal.

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Original elpee version

A1. Banquet (3:00)
A2. Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire (4:17)
A3. Barangrill (2:53)
A4. Lesson in Survival (3:10)
A5. Let The Wind Carry Me (3:55)
A6. For The Roses (3:46)
B1. See You Sometime (2:58)
B2. Electricity (3:00)
B3. You Turn Me On I’m A Radio (2:40)
B4. Blonde In The Bleachers (2:40)
B5. Woman of Heart and Mind (2:36)
B6. Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig’s Tune) (5:25)

All songs composed by Joni Mitchell.

The Players

Joni Mitchell (vocals, piano, acoustic guitar) with James Burton (electric guitar on A1), Wilton Felder (bass), Bobbye Hall (percussion), Russ Kunkel (drums), Graham Nash (harmonica), Bobby Notkoff (strings), Tommy Scott (woodwinds and reeds), Stephen Stills (rock ‘n’ roll band on B4). Sound and guidance by Henry Lewy.

The Pictures

Art direction/design by Anthony Hudson. Photography by Joel Bernstein. Painting by Joni Mitchell.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in November 1972 in the US and Canada (Asylum, SD 5057), the UK (Asylum, SYLA 8753), Germany (Asylum, 1 C 062-93 984) and Japan (Asylum, P-10158Y) with split gatefold cover; reached #11 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1974-1976 in the US (Asylum, SD/CS-5057) [cloud label], the UK (Asylum, K 53007) [cloud label], Germany (Asylum, AS 53007/K 453 007) and Japan (Asylum, P-10158Y) [cloud label].
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Asylum, 5057).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1987 in the US (Asylum, 60624-2) and Germany (WEA, 60624-2).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in Japan (Elektra, WPCP-3954).
  5. Re-released on remastered high-definition compact disc on September 27, 2006 in Japan (WPCR-75231).
  6. Re-released on remastered super high material compact disc on April 20, 2011 in Japan (Asylum, WPCR-14097).

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