For The Roses
The transitional album that’s often overlooked between the twin peaks of Blue and Court And Spark, For The Roses is underwhelming only because it’s merely a very good album. The arrangements are fuller than ever before, with lots of Joni’s fluid piano parts, although closing song ‘Judgement Of The Moon and Stars (Ludwig’s Theme)’ would have benefited from a full string section. The single, ‘You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio’ is slight, which is one reason why For The Roses may have been overlooked. Like Ladies of the Canyon, it’s somewhat inscrutable, but this time the effort is well worthwhile.
‘Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire’ is an evocative tale of heroin addiction, with James Burton adding some bite with his electric guitar part. The title track is a delicate attack on the commercial focus of the music scene in general (“I guess I seem ungrateful/With my teeth sunk in the hand/That brings me things/I can’t give up just yet”) and ex-lover James Taylor in particular (“Remember the days you used to….pour your simple sorrow/To the soundhole and your knee/And now you’re seen/on giant screens/And at parties for the press”). It’s the closing three songs that provide the greatest impact; ‘Blonde In the Bleachers’ is perhaps the most musically immediate song, although it’s still incredibly harmonically complex, and Stephen Stills adds musical backbone for the conclusion. ‘Woman of Heart and Mind’ has a driving power despite its gentle guitar accompaniment, while the Beethoven themed ‘Judgement of the Moon and Stars’ has typically excellent lyrics (“Strike every chord that you feel/That broken trees/And elephant ivories/Conceal”).
You should pick up the surrounding albums first, as For The Roses is more obtuse and difficult to grasp, but it’s top drawer Mitchell, and should be remembered as one of her finest achievements.