Joanie Mitchell’s sixth album, Court and Spark, just turned 50. For the Walrus, KC Hoard shares their deep affinity for Mitchell’s music and its place in their life. For Hoard, Court and Spark marked Mitchell’s musical reinvention, where she distanced herself from her coffeehouse chanteuse image and the accessible, less complicated arrangements of her earlier work.
If you dropped a needle on Joni Mitchell’s brand-new LP in January of 1974, you might have expected yet another hour of her signature elegies. On her two previous records, 1971’s Blue and 1972’s For the Roses, Mitchell excavated arresting songs from deep within her psyche. They are complex but accessible, often pairing Mitchell’s lithe voice with her own accompaniment on sombre piano or supple dulcimer. They are melancholy and sparse. And they aren’t very fun.
Court and Spark starts in a familiar Jonian fashion: mournful piano chords, poetic lyrics, Mitchell’s skyscraper voice. “Love came to my door with a sleeping roll and a madman’s soul,” she coos. “He thought for sure I’d seen him dancing in a river in the dark, looking for a woman to court and spark.” But when she unfurls the title of the album, something unexpected appears: a stuttering hi-hat. A beat in a Joni Mitchell song. And with that rhythm, the Joni of the past was gone. Joni the Confessional Poet, Joni the Selfish and Sad, Joni the Lonely Painter was no more.