My Music

with Sarah Slean

Acclaimed singer/songwriter Sarah Slean will be the guest vocalist at a March 3 Joni Mitchell tribute concert presented by the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. Here are six of Slean’s favourite Mitchell songs. /Gregory Beatty

“Both Sides Now”
Clouds (1969)

The maturity of the lyrics is staggering when you discover Joni wrote this in her 20s. I compare her two recordings of this song to Glenn Gould’s two versions of Goldberg Variations. The opening aria of his ’55 recording is dazzling, effortless; brimming with enthusiasm and youthful vigour; the ’81 version is much slower. He’s still a master, but life has beaten him up a little. It’s reflective, bittersweet and deeply touching… just like Joni’s 2000 version of this song.

“The Last Time I Saw Richard”
Blue (1971)

This album was the soundtrack of my late teens. I was taken aback by the nakedness of the writing, the performances, the playing. I also love “Carey”, “This Flight Tonight”, “Blue” — so many! But the line in this song about “romantics” really speaks to me. “You laugh, you think you’re immune? Go look at your eyes, they’re full of moon.”

“Free Man In Paris”
Court and Spark (1974)

I love mid-’70s Joni. The layers of backing vocals, the open tunings, the adventurous chord progressions: she was musically exploring already. I also love this song’s perspective: “Ya, L.A., I get it, you want me to write hits, but I’m just drinking champagne on a terrace on the Champs D’Elysees right now, okay?” She dissed the music industry so often in song. I find it hilarious and brave.

“Big Yellow Taxi”
Ladies Of The Canyon (1970)

Again, that wisdom beyond her years, wrapped up in the breeziest, most effervescent melody and juicy acoustic guitar.

“Jungle Line”
The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (1975)

The production of this track is so ahead of its time it’s scary. Björk, PJ Harvey, Tori Amos… all draw from this record.

“Sex Kills”
Turbulent Indigo (1994)

I can’t get over these lines: “And the Indian chiefs with their old beliefs know that the balance is undone, crazy ions!/ You can feel it out in traffic, everyone hates everyone.” We’re still there: everything about the modern world that she laments in this scathing indictment is still happening.