I’ve only recently discovered the Joni Mitchell album, Both Sides Now. I was never a Joni fan to be honest. There was something about the falsetto which grated. The songs she wrote were great, but as a performer, she wasn’t to my taste. Consequently, I missed out on almost all of her output until recently. I had heard of ‘Blue’ but wasn’t familiar with it. Then I heard about her album based on Mingus, and I realised I may have been missing something. I also came on this beautifully written article about their relationship.
After seeing the video clip of Both Sides Now, the song, which I linked to in my last #musicmonday post, I looked up the album. It was a revelation. First of course the grating falsetto has gone, but most of all, this is a jazz album, right down to the last crotchet. Only two of the songs are hers, the rest are standards going back to the ’30s. The songs are arranged on the album to depict the path of a relationship. What it immediately brought to mind was Lady in Satin, Billie Holiday’s last and perhaps greatest album, and one of my all-time favourites.
Of course, Billie’s voice was almost gone, and although Joni’s voice on Both Sides Now is rougher and lower, it’s still there. Listen to ‘You’ve Changed’, first from Billie, then Joni. There is a similarity in the arrangements, both of them use some great musicians – J. J. Johnson with Billie, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter with Joni. Listen too, to the melancholic trombone part in Billie’s version, probably Johnson, and the equally melancholic saxophone part by Wayne Shorter, but sounding very Jan Garbarek.
Here for good measure is another version by George Michael, whose musical arranger is clearly familiar with Lady in Satin. Listen to his phrasing too – he’s knows that version too.
There are of course many other versions, including one by Eva Cassidy, which despite her great voice doesn’t match the versions above. Sadly her early death meant she never had the opportunities to make the great records she had the potential for.