on November 14, 2001
My grandmother, a force unlike any other, introduced me to this album soon after it came out. I was spending the summer with her on her farm, and after working all day, we'd sit in the kitchen, sipping something potent, and she'd play this. She liked it because the songs are about a woman who is strong, independent, clever and resilient. Joni sings "I spring from the boulders like a mama lion." My grandmother loved that. And so did I. Still do. She's been gone 4 years now, but I always play this when I go home to visit. And you should too.
on March 12, 2001
After the seminal and darkly meditative BLUE, Joni Mitchell finally showed what she was capable of with simple, unobtrusive instrumentation and complex, the-definition-of-poetic songwriting. While BLUE may be the one Joni album every music fan can agree on, that unfortunately obscures lesser-known yet equally great works like the follow-up to BLUE, FOR THE ROSES. Joni spent the first 5 years of her career as a journeyman (make that woman) folk singer and a much-in-demand songwriter . An album like FOR THE ROSES showed that it was about time Joni received some of that commerical acclaim more directly. She had some near-successes with "Both Sides Now", "The Circle Game" and "Big Yellow Taxi", but it was other artist's versions that became the hits. FOR THE ROSES finally gave Joni some headway into the singles charts with "You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio". Her first song to reach the top 40 by herself, it was quite ironic that it was a hit, seeing as that it satirizes the very medium that helped make her songs known. This was only a hint of the cynicism about the music business that has persisted to this day. Elsewhere, FOR THE ROSES shows Joni making some more leaps into more textured musical territory. The sixties had ended, but a little bit of the flower power princess was still inside of Joni, as shown on socially-conscious anthems like "Banquet" and "Woman Of Heart & Mind" (slightly updated with its unapologetic use of the "F" word). Lyricwise, Joni began turning more inward with songs like "Cold Blue Steel & Sweet Fire", "Electricity", "Barangrill" and the slightly Santana-rhythmed "Blonde In The Bleachers", which manage to create some poetic meaning out of seemingly trivial, homebound subjects. Most of Joni's early music was based on acoustic guitar, but FOR THE ROSES shows the beginning of a keyboard dominance with "Let The Wind Carry Me", "See You Sometime", "Lesson In Survival", "Judgement Of The Moon & Stars" (which features the album's greatest lyrics) and the title track. The presence of just Joni's voice and piano accurately display the alternation between simple instrumentation and heavily-layered songwriting. This move towards a less skeletal, more commerical approach to music foreshadowed the all-out commercial breakthrough of COURT & SPARK, which would follow just a year later. Even though it was bookended by two of pop music's greatest statements (BLUE and COURT & SPARK), FOR THE ROSES is an album that doesn't get that same treatment. Granted, it's not an obvious masterpiece like either of those albums, but it was another step in Joni Mitchell's transformation from mouthpiece of other singers into an artist with her own voice and personality. FOR THE ROSES goes down in her career as the one album that deserves a high plane of existence along with those great albums that preceded and followed it.
on November 10, 2000
I remeber falling in love with Joni's BLUE album after hearing "A Case Of You," "Blue" and "Last Time I Saw Richard." COURT & SPARK ranks as the runner-up to Carole King's TAPESTRY album regarding my favorites (my all-time favorites are Carly's 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th album). But as an established fan of Joni, I have to say that FOR THE ROSES was very very difficult to listen to. The lyrics are astoundingly cutting, funny, and sad, yet the musical backdrop on many of the songs just doesn't solidify the listening experience for me. I am still trying to interpret the lyrics and melody to "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire." I feel that "Lesson in Survival" is too replete with lyrics. I believe the nadir on the album is "Judgment of the Moon and Stars," her tribute to Beethoven. The lyrics are good yet the melody never really took shape. The way I see it is that Joni, in her transition, attempted too many musical styles and nuances, and consequently, SOME of the album suffered.
Yet there are songs that do make the album a fair listening experience. "Barangrill" has a jazzy buoyancy I really like, "Let the Wind Carry Me" is truly touching as is "Woman of Heart and Mind," her pointed yet un-angry look at a confused male in her life. I often find myself clapping along to "You Turn Me On I'm a Radio." (Being one of Joni's sole hit singles I'm surprised I never heard it being played on the radio). I believe that it was these four songs that pulled the album from the precipice of being rendered as unlistenable. Now maybe Joni's a step ahead of me, yet I need to say that FOR THE ROSES is an album that, musically, doesn't help me to define her. Yet one can tell that she REALLY REALLY regained her balance with her next release after this one, being COURT AND SPARK of course!!
on September 14, 2000
Without question, the two most critically celebrated and commercially successful albums of Joni Mitchell's career are the folky, acoustic "Blue" and the jazzy, radio-friendly "Court and Spark." However, sandwiched between the two is a stunning record worthy of just as much attention: 1974's "For the Roses" is an exceptionally well-written collection that serves as the perfect bridge between "Blue" and "Spark."
Fans of her earlier folk-flavored work will find plenty of chestnuts to treasure: "Woman of Heart and Mind" and "You Turn Me On I'm a Radio" are among her most well-written compositions; the former manages to slip in a scathing lyric ("drive your bargains/push your papers/win your medals/f*** your strangers/don't it leave you on the empty side?") amidst a deceivingly mellow musical vibe, while the latter -the album's sole hit- features the classic Mitchell line "I know you don't like weak women/you get bored so quick/and you don't like strong women/'cause they're hip to your tricks"). Along with the clever analogies on the socially-conscious "Banquet" and the touching introspections on the fame-conscious title track, Joni's lyrical sensibilities are rarely sharper than on this album.
But occasionally using woodwinds to flesh out her sound puts a whole new spin on things, taking "Barangrill" to a jazzy level above the quaint narrative it would have been on guitar alone. "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" has a jazzy edge surrounding its folk center, and "Judgment of the Moon and Stars," an ode to Beethoven, is a complex piece that's difficult at first; repeated listens let the song's quirks work their way in to a place of unique charm. "Blonde in the Bleachers" even goes so far as to offer a dose of pop/rock.
For those of us who find "Clouds" a little too flower-powered and "Mingus" a little too out-there, "For the Roses" offers a glorious bridge between Joni's folk-singer and pop/jazz-diva incarnations. A stunning example of Mitchell's capabilities and aspirations, "For the Roses" ranks as an essential outing from one of pop's most respected artists.
on July 23, 1999
Critics have historically cited "Court & Spark" and/or "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" as the major turning point in the musical stylings of Joni Mitchell. I, however, would make the case that Joni planted some deliberate clues on "For the Roses" that she was seeking (and hearing) something new in the constant quest to surpass herself musically. The use of woodwinds, reeds, horns and drums is used marvelously to underscore the emotional pull of such tracks as the brilliant "Judgement of the Moon & Stars", the classic "You Turn Me On I'm a Radio", the unnerving "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire", the wistful "Barangrill". Lyrically, this albums out-distances other Mitchell albums in terms of sheer literacy. Her images are powerful, whether she's addressing the perils of heroin addiction: "Come with me/I know the way/She says, "Its down the dark ladder"/Do you want to contact somebody first/What does it matter?/You're gonna come now or you're gonna come later!" or skewering yet another lover with the timeless couplets in "Woman of Heart and Mind": "Drive your bargains/Push your papers/Win your medals/F**k your strangers". This songs still packs a wallop! The main theme beneath "For the Roses" is her uncertainty and wariness toward her growing fame. When this album was recorded, Mitchell had all but forsaken public performing, preferring instead to 'hole up' in her Vancouver, B.C. cabin. The title track elegantly states her case: "I guess I seem ungrateful/With my teeth sunk in the hand/That brings me things/I really can't give up just yet" and even more poignantly, "Oh the power and the glory/Just when you're gettin' a taste for worship/They start bringing out the hammers/And the boards/And the nails". "See You Sometime" confronts the same issue, albeit from Joni's uniquely sly perspective: "Where are you now?/Are you in some hotel room?/Does it have a view?/Are you caught in a crowd?/Or holding some honey who came on to you?". The album ends in a brilliantly executed song called, "Judgement of the Moon and Stars", Joni's homage (if you will) to fellow Sagatarian Ludwig Beethoven. Even his fame is commented on: "In the court they carve your legend/With an appled in it's jaw/And the women that you wanted/They get their laughs". Years later, after coining the term 'star-maker machinery', Joni would return to confront her demons on "Taming the Tiger" -- another withering glance at the industry which made her famous. For the Roses, for the new or casual Joni Mitchell listener, is the perfect place to hitch a ride with a master.
on March 1, 1999
Joni produced one string of winner records ("Ladies of the Canyon","Blue","For the Roses" and "Sparkle and Robery"). Specially,"For the Roses" isn't only a collection of excellent songs, it represents a important transition in Joni carrer also. We hear an evolution from plain folk to one more influenced jazz style. Alike to Tim Bucley, she developed Folk-Jazz to support her interesting lyrics. This is an annoucement for the more complex "Hejira". "For the Roses" is a explosive fist of songs. Social comments in "Banquet" . A urban heroin junkies chronicle "Steel Blue and Sweet Fire". (Certainly, both songs with resemblance to Velvet Underground)The feminist manifesto of "Woman of Heart and Mind". Ironical poetry in "Turn me (I am a Radio)". "Lessons in Survival" and "Judgement of the Moon and Stars" are two wonderful jazzy vocal exercises. "Blonde on the Bleachers" features one giant simulation of Rock'n Roll band for guest Sthepen Stills. Joni Mitchell is back up for a litle band in this record. My suggestion: Buy it!
on February 9, 2004
Man, do I love Joni Mitchell. I have not yet started to explore her eighties-stuff (which doesn't seem to be that great anyway), but everything she's done from the spare, folky 'Song To A Seagull' to one of my favorite albums by Joni (and any other artist) 'The Hissing Of Summer Lawns' is plain brilliant. I thought it would be fitting to devote another positive review to this underrated gem of an album. I'll admit, i was kind of late to check it out myself too, mainly because of it's ugly and dated cover-art; which makes the record seem kind of cheap. The music though, is just plain heaven. My favorite songs are the ones where she mixes folk with jazzy arrangements; and I rarely heard more beautiful songs as "Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire" and especially "Barangrill". These songs are so unique; I'm always captivated by them when they fill up my ears. The rest of the album, despite one or two songs that are kind of interchangeable, is A+ quality too: the beautiful social commentary on 'Banquet' and typical Joni-ballads that have the exact same quality as anything on 'Blue': 'See You Sometime', 'Woman of Heart And Mine', and the gorgeous 'Blonde In The Bleachers'. The only thing that keeps this album from being my favorite Joni-album is 'The Hissing Of Summer Lawns'; a brooding, warm, highly melodic and pleasantly haunting masterpiece that still sounds fresh and overwhelming after 100+ listens.
on May 10, 2003
After having stripped her skin bare on "Blue", Joni found it
hard to move forward; therefore, she holed herself up in a
Canadian cabin for about a year and emerged with "For The Roses",
whose cover and contents were heavily influenced by her
time there and show her trying to sort out the confused and
bleeding emotions she felt at the time. The result is another
brilliant masterwork with all of the inner psychic pain of "Blue", matched with a greater willingness to branch out musically. Although it does not have the complete thematic or musical unity of the spare, edgy "Blue" or the confident jazz-pop followup "Court And Spark", "For The Roses" takes a little
from both and succeeds just as well on its own terms.
Lyrically, there are three types of songs here: social protest,
inner personal examinations and character observations. All are written with the same complexity of emotion and attention to detail that infuses all of her best work. Tracks like "Lesson In Survival", "For The Roses", "See You Sometime" and "Woman Of Heart And Mind" could have easily fit on "Blue", as they tear
apart her continued problems with relationships, her didain for
fame and the search for who she is in vivid colors. "Banquet"
is one of her finest protest numbers and frames the album
rather nicely; "Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire", which follows,
remains a harrowing study of addiction. My favorite, however, is the underrated "Barangrill", a character study which attempts to find a Zen moment among a succession of simple American workers who work by the roadside.
Musically, about half of the songs stick to the spare style of "Blue", with Joni accompanied only by piano or acoustic guitar, and of course work quite well (these include "Banquet",
"Lesson In Survival", "For The Roses", "See You Sometime").
The other half mark the beginning of the turn toward fuller band arrangements and jazz influences that would blossom on "Court And Spark", although in some cases it is still tentative. Woodwinds and reeds accompany "Barangrill" and "Let The Wind Carry Me"; bass, drums and electric guitar frame "Cold Blue Steel" and close out "Blonde In The Bleachers"; "You Turn Me On I'm A Radio" is an unexpected country-pop number with harmonica,
bongos and guitar that became her first bona fide hit; and the elegant closing "Judgement Of The Moon And Stars" brings out a full string section for a stunning musical interlude that marks this as one of her most ambitious pieces. Although the full rock band-and-orchestra sound would have to wait until the next album, its various components can be found coloring the tracks here in transitional style--and sound no less appealing in embryonic form. The woodwinds and reeds sound especially nice.
In all, "For The Roses" is just an essential work; that it comes in between the more recognized "Blue" and "Court And Spark" is no reason to dismiss it, for it is as good as either of these and remains one of her best to this day.
on January 27, 2003
Generally regarded as one of the "essentials" in a Joni Mitchell collection, FOR THE ROSES is a creative, long-playing novel of an album.
The thing about Joni Mitchell fans is we love everything she does because we've been hypnotized. You can't reason with a Joni Mitchell fan. Once we've been won over to her honest, brilliantly simple poetry and her "call of the free-roaming spirit" that comes across in every album ... she can no longer do any wrong in our eyes. She's like a friend we've never met.
Joni's voice has always struck me as plain, but I've come to stop seeing that as a bad thing. The natural quality of it enhances the impression of her as just "someone I know who writes beautiful poetry and makes up incredible melodies." She hits some nice high notes, but overall, she sounds just a little less trained than some other singers you hear. (In my opinion.) But that's part of her style! That's part of the reason her personality comes through so strongly. Because we can HEAR HER HEART in her voice. It hasn't been trained to cold perfection.
FOR THE ROSES is a combination of folk and 60s-style pop. Sometimes it moves along like a comfortable train, easing from one song to the next. Many of the pieces are easygoing melodies, so mild that the complicated, intelligent lyrics come as a surprise. But a couple of the songs are heart-stopping or contain heart-stopping moments.
THE BLONDE IN THE BLEACHERS starts off as a mild, easygoing melody, but suddenly, at the end, it completely turns - Joni seems to turn to the audience, break out of the song, and suddenly sing some surprising lyrics RIGHT AT YOU.
LET THE WIND CARRY ME is a heartfelt confession/ballad that you will want to play over and over and over. It is beautiful to the core.
The album as a whole is complicated - both lyrically and melodically. Like a great novel, it needs to be opened slowly, appreciated in morsels and then gradually as a whole.
Most die-hard Joni fans I know say that this isn't their number one favorite album. But it's in everybody's top three without exception. So if you're a fan, this complex work is an absolute must.
on October 22, 2002
I used to have a "two-fer" cassette that contained both FOR THE ROSES and COURT AND SPARK. Now that's what I call a bargain! I wish someone would consider a similar CD package. I've always loved those early 70s records of hers--BLUE, ROSES and C&S. Her earlier, folkier efforts were very nice, in a self-consciously dainty way. By the early 70s she was becoming more expansive, more boldly experimental. It sounded, quite frankly, that she had been listening to and absorbing the music of her contemporary, Laura Nyro. The move from tight little folk ballads to freer form jazz tinged numbers may have been a little alienating to some fans, but it would be several years before Mitchell's music would become truly "difficult." For a few years in the 70s, Mitchell wore her pretensions lightly, wrote good solid melodies, and penned lyrics that were intelligent, "sensitive," and not overly arty.
Yes, it's pretty nervy to (even indirectly) compare yourself to Ludwig van, but it was also refreshingly honest for someone as artistically ambitious as Mitchell, to cease being so gosh darn demure and to "burn like forest fire," and if she was "feeling contempt, Jesus, well then, [she was going to] yell it..." You can listen or not--decide to put up with the pretensions, because the music is, on the whole, worth it. It's your call.
The early 70s material is often referred to as "confessional," as in "Sylvia-Plath-confessional" or "Anne-Sexton-confessional." Well, it is true that Joni Mitchell specializes in writing about herself, her love life and her muse. Some of those songs work well: others are not so effective. And sometimes you wish she WEREN'T so darn direct. I can't imagine that James Taylor exactly relished obvious references their celebrated relationships. ("Pack your suspenders," indeed!)
To balance those self-absorbed tendencies, Mitchell wisely begins this record with the socially conscious "Banquet" and follows it with the gritty portrait of an urban addict, "Cold Blue Steel," which no one in his right mind would assume had anything to do Joni Mitchell's own life. (I think she was clearly experimenting with urban jungle themes a la Nyro or Lou Reed.) Almost every other song on the record--except, arguably, for "Judgment of the Moon..."--is either highly personal or veers intriguingly between the personal and the general.
A number of reviewers have noted that this is a "transitional" album. Actually, my own sense--especially having owned that "twofer" for so long--is that many of these songs could be interchangeable with tunes from BLUE or COURT AND SPARK. If anyone had asked me precisely which album a song like "See You Sometime" or "Let the Wind Carry Me" actually appeared on, I might have been at a loss to place it accurately. More devout fans likely see it differently, but I think we don't see much in the way of a sharp musical divergence until, say, HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS. I can get a sense of why some find COURT & SPARK to be a more cohesive, more satisfying recording, but to this listener, they are more similar than they are different.
And that's my point, the early 70s were a highpoint in Joni Mitchell's career--if not THE highpoint. From BLUE to COURT & SPARK, the music was ambitious, intelligent and still tuneful enough that you think you can sing along (although when you try, you may find it's not so easy). "A Woman of Heart and Mind"? Yes and no. There's often a bit too much mind, undercutting the heart's message. Still this is compelling stuff. It early Joni seemed too lacey, and more recent stuff too leathery, the early 70s stuff is a well tempered mix of cold steel and sweet fire.