Jonny’s Jams: Femme fantastic

Two extremely talented female singer-songwriters kick off our first review section:

Blue, Joni Mitchell, DCC Compact Classics, 1971

Grief drives
people to do crazy things.

As the annals of indie-history have it, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver spent three months in an isolated Wisconsin cabin before composing “For Emma, Forever Ago,” widely touted as our generation’s most devastating break-up album.

After a bitter break-up with Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell went into self imposed exile in Europe, eventually inhabiting a cave in the island of Crete, where she began to write songs that would eventually appear on Blue.

Blue, recorded in 1971, is Joni Mitchell’s fourth release.

Preceded by Ladies of the Canyon, which found Mitchell still entrenched in full folky Woodstocky mode, Blue is sparse, devastating and one of the best breakup albums ever made.

“I am on a lonely road and I am traveling/ Traveling, traveling, traveling,” she sings on “All I Want,” the opening track of Blue.

Through Blue, we travel with her; from the infatuation tinged with sadness and inevitable leaving on “A Case Of You,” to a portrait of a soured and a failed romance on the “Last Time I saw Richard,” Mitchell brings the listener along with her.

“He told me all romantics meet the same fate someday/ Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café,” she sings.

In many ways, she’s projecting her bleak visions of the future.

The last stage of loss is acceptance, and “getting over it” can destroy even the most romantic souls. “You think you’re immune, go look at your eyes/they’re full of moon.”

Blue is also an achievement in poetics; Mitchell once said that she “was demanding of myself a deeper and greater honesty, more and more revelation,” while writing Blue, and dear lord does it show.

Like the best poetry, Blue is full of emotional epiphanies and a sense of universality.

I’ve never been through a break up with Graham Nash, but I still feel with her as she sings her blue songs nestled in the midst of foggy lullabies.


Compostela, Jenn Grant, 2014, Outside Music

“All the bombshellsJenn-Grant never hit you back,” Jenn Grant, a female singer from Lake Echo, N.S., sings in the opening track of Compostela, her fifth album.

Grant has the unique gift of letting loose bombshells in moments of calm.

A sense of calm pervades Compostela, but the album never gets lazy.

With classical guitar riffs, Joanna Newsome-esque harp flourishes, a mellow rhythm driving most of these songs forward and a lovely voice, this album offers moments of subtle beauty.

There’s aren’t any melodramatics, no sweeping Taylor Swift-esque condemnations. Everything flows on gently.

“No one’s gunna love youquite like I do,” she rasps in a low, powerful alto voice, “holding hands in the back of cars/ on a Sunday drive, where the mountains are,” she sings on “No One’s Gonna Love You (Quite Like I Do)” as the bongos, the piano chords and the classical guitar hit a moment of crescendo.

It’s all so cohesive and it reflects what makes the album so great; a fully realized album that keeps the same blood flowing throughout and never grows stale.

Although accomplished, Grant’s last effort, “The Beautiful Wild,” lacked the sense of connectivity and cohesiveness that elevates Compostela from good to great.

Sure, she’s pulling some of the same tricks; the harp flourishes and the violins and the wide pool of influences aren’t new.

Grant’s toolbelt is growing notches, and in 2014 she has molded herself into a mature, subtle, and talented singer-songwriter.