|Studio album by|
|Studio||A&M Studios, Hollywood|
|Genre||Folk jazz, pop jazz, jazz fusion|
|Joni Mitchell chronology|
Hejira is the eighth studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.
The songs on the album were largely written by Mitchell on a trip by car from Maine back to Los Angeles, California, with prominent imagery including highways, small towns and snow. The photographs of Mitchell on the front and back cover were taken by Norman Seeff and appear against a backdrop of Lake Mendota, in Madison, Wisconsin, after an ice storm.
Characterized by lyrically dense, sprawling songs, and graced with the overdubbed fretless bass playing of Jaco Pastorius, whom Joni had just met, Hejira continued Mitchell's journey beyond her pop records towards the freer, jazz inspired music she would implement on later recordings.
The album did not sell as well as its predecessors, peaking at No. 22 in her native Canada. It reached No. 13 on the Billboard 200 pop album chart in the United States, where it was certified gold by the RIAA, and No. 11 in the UK, where it attained a silver certification. Critically, the album was generally well received, and in the years since its release, Hejira has been considered one of the high marks of her career.
According to Mitchell, the album was written during or after three journeys she took in late 1975 and the first half of 1976. The first was a stint as a member of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue in late 1975. During this time period, she became a frequent cocaine user, and it would take several years for her to kick the addiction.
In February 1976, Mitchell was scheduled to play about six weeks of concert dates across the US promoting The Hissing of Summer Lawns. However, the relationship between Mitchell and her boyfriend John Guerin (who was acting as her drummer on the string of dates) soured, possibly due to Mitchell's fling with director Sam Shepard during the Rolling Thunder Revue. Tensions became so fraught that the tour was abandoned about halfway through.
The third trip came soon after when Mitchell traveled across America with two men, one of them being a former lover from Australia. This trip inspired six of the songs on the album. She drove with her two friends from Los Angeles to Maine, and then went back to California alone via Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. She traveled without a driver's licence and stayed behind truckers, relying on their habit of signaling when the police were ahead of them; consequently, she only drove in daylight hours.
During some of her solo journeys, Mitchell donned a red wig, sunglasses, and told the varying strangers she met that her name was either "Charlene Latimer" or "Joan Black." Despite the disguise, Mitchell was still sometimes recognized.
During the recording of her albums Court and Spark and The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Mitchell grew increasingly frustrated by the rock session musicians who had been hired to perform her music. "...There were grace notes and subtleties and things that I thought were getting kind of buried." The session musicians in turn recommended that Mitchell start looking for jazz instrumentalists to perform on her records. In addition, her relationship with drummer and musician John Guerin (which lasted through a significant portion of the mid-1970s) influenced her decision to move more towards experimental jazz music and further away from her folk and pop roots.
After recording the basic tracks that would become Hejira, Mitchell met bassist Jaco Pastorius and they formed an immediate musical connection; Mitchell was dissatisfied with what she called the "dead, distant bass sound" of the 1960s and early 1970s, and was beginning to wonder why the bass part always had to play the root of a chord. She overdubbed his bass parts on four of the tracks on Hejira and released the album in November 1976.
Dominated by Mitchell's guitar and Pastorius's fretless bass, the album drew on a range of influences but was more cohesive and accessible than some of her later more jazz-oriented work. "Coyote", "Amelia", and "Hejira" became concert staples especially after being featured on the live album Shadows and Light alongside "Furry Sings the Blues" and "Black Crow".
The album title is an unusual transliteration of the Arabic word more commonly rendered as Hegira or Hijra, which means "rupture", usually referring to the migration of the Islamic prophet Muhammad (and his companions) from Mecca to Medina in 622. She later stated that when she chose the title, she was looking for a word that meant "running away with honor." She found the word "hejira" while reading the dictionary, and was drawn to the "dangling j, like in Aja... it's leaving the dream, no blame".
Mitchell has described the album as "really inspired... there is this restless feeling throughout it... The sweet loneliness of solitary travel", and has said that "I suppose a lot of people could have written a lot of my other songs, but I feel the songs on Hejira could only have come from me."
Hejira opens with "Coyote", about a one-night stand with a ladies' man, speculated by several biographers to be playwright and actor Sam Shepard. Mitchell would later perform the song with The Band at their 1976 farewell concert, which was eventually released under the title The Last Waltz (1978).
The second track on Hejira, "Amelia", was inspired by Mitchell's breakup with Guerin, and described by her as almost an exact account of her experience in the desert. The song interweaves a story of a desert journey (the "hejira within the hejira") with the famous aviator Amelia Earhart who mysteriously vanished during a flight over the Pacific Ocean. Mitchell has commented on the origins of the song: "I was thinking of Amelia Earhart and addressing it from one solo pilot to another... sort of reflecting on the cost of being a woman and having something you must do." The song, each verse of which ends with the refrain "Amelia, it was just a false alarm", repeatedly shifts between two keys, giving it a constant unsettled feeling.
"Furry Sings the Blues", with Neil Young on harmonica, is an account of Mitchell meeting the blues guitarist and singer Furry Lewis in Beale Street, Memphis during a period when the surrounding area was being demolished. Lewis was displeased with Mitchell's use of his name. Mitchell would return to the song live in concert throughout the years. Like "Coyote", "Furry Sings the Blues" was sung by Mitchell at The Band's farewell concert. This version of the song was not included on the 1978 version of The Last Waltz but was included on the 2002 re-release. After not performing live since 2002, Mitchell played "Furry Sings the Blues" (as well as "Don't Interrupt the Sorrow" from The Hissing of Summer Lawns and "Woodstock" from Ladies of the Canyon) during her birthday tribute at Massey Hall on June 18 and 19, 2013. This was Mitchell's final public performance to date.
"A Strange Boy" recounts the affair Mitchell had with one of the men she was traveling with from Los Angeles to Maine; he was a flight attendant in his thirties who lived with his parents.
"Hejira" is about Mitchell's reasons for leaving John Guerin, and Mitchell described it as probably the toughest tune on the album to write. It features the bass work of Pastorius, who was inspired by Mitchell's use of multi-tracking with her guitar to mix four separate tracks of his carefully arranged bass parts, having them all play together at certain points of the tune.
Side two of Hejira begins with the epic "Song for Sharon", which at eight minutes and 40 seconds stands as the longest track on the album. The lyrics deal with the conflict faced by a woman who is deciding between freedom and marriage. The song references the places Mitchell went during her trip to New York City, including scenes at Mandolin Brothers in Staten Island and a visit to a fortune teller on Bleecker Street. The song was allegedly written while Mitchell was high on cocaine at the end of her visit to the city.
The namesake of the song was her childhood friend Sharon Bell, who studied voice and wanted to be a singer when she was young but married a farmer; Mitchell wanted to be a farmer's wife, but ended up becoming a singer. The song also mentions the blowout fight and abandoned midwestern tour that served as the death knell for Mitchell's relationship with Guerin: "I left my man at a North Dakota junction, and I came out to the Big Apple here to face the dream's malfunction."
According to biographer Sheila Weller, "Song For Sharon" also makes a coded reference to the March 1976 suicide of Jackson Browne's wife, fashion model Phyllis Major. Browne and Mitchell had a brief, "high-strung" affair in 1972; on at least one occasion, Browne allegedly physically abused Mitchell. After their relationship dissolved, Browne quickly married Major. Although Major had died from a barbiturate overdose, Mitchell sang "A woman I knew just drowned herself", and questioned if her suicide was a means of "punishing somebody".
"Blue Motel Room" was written at the DeSoto Beach Motel in Savannah, Georgia. The song was inspired by the first breakup of the on-again-off-again relationship between Mitchell and Guerin. The lyrics express Mitchell's hopes of rekindling their relationship, and she tells her love interest to rebuff any other suitors: "Tell those girls that you've got German Measles, honey tell 'em you've got germs."
"Refuge of the Roads" was written about a three-day visit that Mitchell had made to the controversial Buddhist meditation master Chögyam Trungpa in Colorado on her way back to Los Angeles. According to Mitchell, it was during this visit in early 1976 that Trungpa cured her of her own cocaine addiction. She would later say that this track was one of her own favorite songs, and would rerecord the tune, along with "Amelia" and "Hejira", with a full orchestra for her 2002 album Travelogue. The famous photo Earthrise by astronaut Bill Anders is alluded to.
The album was released in November 1976 by Asylum. Commercially the album did not do as well as its two predecessors. Despite reaching #13 on the Billboard 200 pop album chart and being certified Gold, it failed to get significant airplay on commercial radio.
|Christgau's Record Guide||B+|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Great Rock Discography||9/10|
|Le Guide du CD||GOLD|
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
Reviewing for Rolling Stone, Ariel Swartley felt that Mitchell had abandoned melodies and memorable tunes in favour of "new, seductive rhythms" and "lush guitars", with the resulting sound, despite its "apparent simplicity", as "sophisticated and arresting as anything she's done". Village Voice critic Robert Christgau was impressed with the way that "Mitchell subjugates melody to the natural music of language itself".
In 1991 Rolling Stone placed the cover at No. 11 on its list of best album covers.
All tracks are written by Joni Mitchell.
|3.||"Furry Sings the Blues"||5:07|
|4.||"A Strange Boy"||4:15|
|1.||"Song for Sharon"||8:40|
|3.||"Blue Motel Room"||5:04|
|4.||"Refuge of the Roads"||6:42|
- Joni Mitchell – vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar
- Chuck Findley, Tom Scott – horns (on "Refuge of the Roads")
- Abe Most – clarinet (on "Hejira")
- Neil Young – harmonica (on "Furry Sings the Blues")
- Victor Feldman – vibraphone (on "Amelia")
- Larry Carlton – electric guitar (on "Amelia", "A Strange Boy" and "Black Crow"); acoustic guitar (on "Blue Motel Room")
- Max Bennett – bass guitar (on "Furry Sings the Blues" and "Song for Sharon")
- Jaco Pastorius – fretless bass (on "Coyote", "Hejira", "Black Crow" and "Refuge of the Roads")
- Chuck Domanico – double bass (on "Blue Motel Room")
- John Guerin – drums (on "Furry Sings the Blues", "Song for Sharon", "Blue Motel Room" and "Refuge of the Roads")
- Bobbye Hall – percussion (on "Coyote", "A Strange Boy" and "Hejira")
- Henry Lewy – production, recording, mixing
- Steve Katz – assistant production, mixing
- Keith Williamson – art direction
- Joel Bernstein, Norman Seeff – photography
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