University was a great time for learning about new music. I studied in a bigger city with better record shops, and I had a part-time job and a bigger record buying budget. I found lots of favourite records in second hand bins, bargain bins, and most especially second hand bargain bins.
Of all the additions to my music library in this period, my most played was Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark. Mitchell’s best known for early folk songs like ‘Both Sides Now’ and ‘Chelsea Morning’. She’d tried playing with studio bands but felt they trampled over her sophisticated guitar tunings. When she mentioned this to a friend, they suggested she play with jazz musicians.
Court and Spark was Mitchell’s first record with a full band, Tom Scott’s LA Express. Her music retains the confessional lyrics of earlier records like Blue, but the more sophisticated arrangements give her music more dynamism.
Jazzy pop songs like ‘Help Me’ and ‘Free Man in Paris’ provide the entry points. The lovely title track and ‘Car on the Hill’ (written about Jackson Browne) provide the introspection. Robbie Robertson plays guitar on the rock-oriented ‘Raised on Robbery’ and the cover of Annie Ross’ ‘Twisted’, with Cheech and Chong on backing vocals, provides some levity.
Mitchell made five phenomenal records between 1971 and 1976 – Court and Spark is the middle one, and probably the most accessible. The early 1970s were a great time for terrific albums with other artists like Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, David Bowie, Yes, Genesis, Curtis Mayfield, and Led Zeppelin also in their prime, but I’m happy with Court and Spark as my selection from the era.