With a sideways move to Asylum Records, Joni’s sound also took a diversion from the image she’d perfected thus far. For The Roses includes several piano songs and solo acoustic pieces, but just as her voice had gotten deeper, so had her immersion into free verse. It also features the unfortunate arrival of Tom Scott, who wouldn’t go away for some time.
“Banquet” is a pretty piano ballad, full of allegories and allusions, easing the listener in. Slightly more direct is the addiction portrait in the otherwise engrossing “Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire”. “Barandgrill” is an uncanny prediction of the type of lyrics Tom Waits would soon tackle, mixed with weariness of life on the road. (Notice the bass clarinet, which will dominate her albums to come.) “Lesson In Survival” is sequenced perfectly as a timely return to the sensitive piano, segueing seamlessly into “Let The Wind Carry Me”, which adds layered harmonies and saxes to the yearning. The title track, performed over a jaunty tuning reminiscent of her first album, is another disguised reflection on the music biz. This song, by the way, is a tour de force.
The aching “See You Sometime” sets up the second half, bringing us back to standard Joni territory as expected. But it’s not all that predictable, as “Electricity” makes all too clear. That comes off as merely an interlude to “You Turn Me On (I’m A Radio)”, featuring old paramour Graham Nash on second-grade level harmonica. It’s an odd perspective, seeing her as object, less than in control. The image of the woman onstage amidst a crazy audience is better displayed on “Blonde In The Bleachers”, wherein she capably imagines both the person alongside the headliner and the prospective groupie. By the time the band kicks in, the dynamics are just right. The song ends on just the kind of triplets that will drive another adventure down the road, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The singer in “Woman Of Heart And Mind” takes control again, lest you think she’s too under the thumb of the men with whom she’s been seen. It ends as it should, with Joni at the piano, singing about Beethoven’s struggles on “Judgement Of The Moon And Stars (Ludwig’s Tune)”. The string and woodwind interruptions don’t stop her either.
For anyone who fell in love with Joni’s first four albums, she wasn’t about to make it easy in the slightest. Her journey was about to go over some pretty bumpy roads, so if you wanted to tag along, you’d better be prepared to hang on tightly. The songs on For The Roses are good, but somehow they’re just not as memorable as before. Without the obvious structures and rhyme schemes, they’re simply tougher to follow. But there’s no denying how pretty they are. (Meanwhile, the male chauvinists in us could leer at the inner photo, featuring Our Heroine photographed au naturel from a distance.)
Joni Mitchell For The Roses (1972)—3