|Studio album by Joni Mitchell|
|Studio||A&M Studios, Hollywood|
|Genre||Folk jazz, pop jazz, jazz fusion|
|Joni Mitchell chronology|
|Le Guide du CD||GOLD|
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|Martin C. Strong||9/10|
|Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
The album title is a transliteration of the Arabic word "hijra", which means "journey", usually referring to the migration of the Islamic prophet Muhammad (and his companions) from Mecca to Medina in 622. 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.
The album did not sell as well as its predecessors, peaking at #22 in Mitchell's native Canada, although it still reached #13 on the Billboard 200 pop album chart and was certified Gold, and #11 in the UK where it has been certified Silver. Critically, the album was generally well received and has since been recognized as one of the high-water marks in Mitchell's career.
Background and themes
According to Mitchell, the album was written during or after three journeys she took in late 1975 and the first half of 1976: a stint on the Rolling Thunder Revue with Bob Dylan in late 1975 when she became a frequent cocaine user, a concert tour cancelled after six weeks in February 1976 when Mitchell and drummer John Guerin ended their on-again, off-again relationship, and a road trip Mitchell undertook shortly after the tour with two men, one of them a former lover from Australia, that 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. After recording the tracks, she 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.
Mitchell 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."
Dominated by Mitchell's guitar and Pastorius's distinctive 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 shortly after Hejira's release, especially after being featured on the live album Shadows and Light, alongside "Furry Sings the Blues" and "Black Crow".
Two of the album's songs are fast-strummed jazzy numbers: "Coyote", about a one-night stand with a ladies' man (speculated to be playwright and actor Sam Shepard) and "Black Crow", about the practical difficulty for Mitchell of traveling from her second home on British Columbia's Sunshine Coast. The rest of Hejira, however, is slow and often languid, notably the epic "Song for Sharon", which deals with the conflict faced by a woman between freedom and marriage and which is interspersed with images of New York City including a trip to Mandolin Brothers in Staten Island and a visit to a fortune teller on Bleecker Street. The song, which was mostly written while she was high on cocaine at the end of the day of that visit, was written for her childhood friend Sharon Bell, who studied voice and wanted to be a singer when she was young but married a farmer, while Mitchell wanted to be a farmer's wife, but ended up becoming a singer.
Inspired by Mitchell's breakup with Guerin, and described by her as almost an exact account of her experience in the desert, "Amelia" 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.
The title track and "Blue Motel Room" also reference Mitchell's relationship with Guerin. The former is about her reasons for leaving him, 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. "Blue Motel Room", written at the DeSoto Beach Motel in Savannah, Georgia, humorously expresses Mitchell's hopes of rekindling her relationship with Guerin.
"Furry Sings the Blues", which features Neil Young on harmonica, was inspired by a meeting in 1975 that came about between Mitchell and the blues guitarist and singer Furry Lewis in Memphis after she had "hit on" a local policeman. In exchange for Mitchell taking him to a record store in her limousine, he showed her Beale Street, where she met a pawn shop owner who introduced her to Lewis. Lewis was displeased with Mitchell's unauthorized use of his name and "hated" the song. He told Rolling Stone in February 1977: "She shouldn't have used my name in no way, shape, form or faction without consultin' me 'bout it first. The woman came over here and I treated her right, just like I does everybody that comes over. She wanted to hear 'bout the old days, said it was for her own personal self, and I told it to her like it was, gave her straight oil from the can."
"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. "Refuge of the Roads" was written about a three-day visit that Mitchell had made to the Buddhist meditation master Chögyam Trungpa in Colorado on her way back to Los Angeles.
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. Critically, the album was, however, generally well received, and it has since been recognized as one of the high-water marks in Mitchell's career.
In 1991 Rolling Stone cited the album's cover as the 11th greatest album cover of all time.
The album was included in Robert Dimery's 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
All tracks written by Joni Mitchell.
|3.||"Furry Sings the Blues"||5:07|
|4.||"A Strange Boy"||4:15|
|6.||"Song for Sharon"||8:40|
|8.||"Blue Motel Room"||5:04|
|9.||"Refuge of the Roads"||6:42|
- Joni Mitchell – vocals, acoustic guitar and electric guitars
- Larry Carlton – electric guitar on "Amelia", "A Strange Boy" and "Black Crow"; acoustic guitar on "Blue Motel Room"
- Jaco Pastorius – bass guitar on "Coyote", "Hejira", "Black Crow" and "Refuge of the Roads"
- Max Bennett – bass guitar on "Furry Sings the Blues" and "Song for Sharon"
- 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"
- Victor Feldman – vibraphone on "Amelia"
- Neil Young – harmonica on "Furry Sings the Blues"
- Abe Most – clarinet on "Hejira"
- Chuck Findley, Tom Scott – horns on "Refuge of the Roads"
- Henry Lewy – production, recording, mixing
- Steve Katz – assistant production, mixing
- Keith Williamson – art direction
- Joel Bernstein, Norman Seeff – photography
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