Review Summary: A wonderfully overlooked part of Joni's exquisite catalogue.
In 1972 Joni Mitchell released the follow up to her highly acclaimed "Blue". Blue is an album famed for its lyrical sincerity concerning issues deeply personal to Joni's life. On "For the Roses" Joni offers an emotionally much more subdued album. Lyrically her album deals with her cynical approach to the music industry ("For the Roses", "You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio"), the ills of capitalism ("Banquet") as well as detaching herself and narrating others' stories ("Cold Steel and Blue Fire"). This creates an atmosphere that is perhaps more distant and not as accessible as Blue, but Joni's wonderful songcraft carries this extremely strong album nonetheless.
In particular the arrangements on the album are sublime. The aforementioned "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" is a particular high. It features subdued guitar, bass and drums with a soprano saxophone wailing over the top - somewhat blurring the lines between cheese and tastefulness - with a funky wah-wah guitar lingering in the background. The song's climatic moments are underpinned with a wonderful synth glissando that gives the song an almost pornographic quality perfectly suited to the grimy heroin addiction over which Joni is lamenting. Many of the songs follow this restrained approach to arrangement, often with Joni playing guitar or piano and then accompanied with winds. In particular the arrangements on "Let the Wind Carry Me" and "Judgment of the Moon and Stars", with their extended structures and orchestral flourishes, foreshadow some of the expert orchestration to be found on Joni's subsequent works. As such I consider them to be some of the more expansive and stronger songs on the album
Joni's musicality on the album is of an exceptionally high quality. She explores interesting but subtle shifts of time throughout ("Banquet", "Blonde in the Bleachers"). Her use of rubato in "Lesson in Survival" is glorious. Her chord progressions are always interesting. Her guitar and piano playing sets the bar for singer-songwriters of today - clichés and all. That's to say the oft-maligned left-hand bare-fifth piano arpeggios are perhaps a bit too present, but we can forgive here this one blemish.
In many ways, Joni Mitchell's 1972 album For the Roses gets overlooked by the towering presence of the two giants sitting either side in her discography. However the album provides some of Joni's most underrated work and is a worthy part of Joni's catalogue - especially as part of her staggering chain of achievements between 1971 and 1976.
Recommended tracks - "Cold blue steel and sweet fire"
"Let the wind carry me"
"Judgment of the moon and stars (Ludwig's tune)"