Posts Tagged ‘Tom Scott’


While recording Court and Spark, Joni Mitchell had tried to make a clean break with her earlier folk sound, producing the album herself and employing jazz / pop fusion outfit L.A. Express as what she called her first real backing group. In February 1974, her tour with L.A. Express began, and performances were met with rave reviews as the entourage travelled across the United States and Canada and then onto Europe.

On April 21st 1974 they played a stunning show at London’s New Victoria Theatre, which was recorded for television broadcast in the UK and back in the US too.

Joni’s back up band, Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, took the stage as a support. It was odd that given the Express had lent such a distinctive sound to Mitchell’s two most recent albums – ‘For The Roses’ and ‘Court and Spark’ – that their music should come over sounding so bland and programmed.

It was time. Joni Mitchell strode on, smiled, gave a self-conscious bow and picked up her guitar.  Joni opened the set with “This Flight Tonight”  It was as if she was singing about the concert as much as some plane flight, her ambivalent attitude towards performing resulted in a somewhat shakey delivery of that first song. Then it was “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” and all the critics’ worries were swept away. The live version completely transcended the studio cut, Mitchell duetting with the lead guitarist in a beautiful piece of call and response the two of them soaring in perfect unity. Only since her arrival had the band begun to play with more than precision. She inspired them and they, in turn, brought a new verve to old Mitchell tunes like “Woodstock” and “Rainy Night House”. Songs from the new album “Court and Spark”, were heavily featured throughout, thankfully, being carbon copies of the vinyl version. In fact, on “The Same Situation”, she totally blew the number, mixing the melody up with that of a new song in the making. Joni seemed as surprised as we were and giggled at her mistake. The band stopped, she then jokingly sang “Again and again and again and again the same situation” before coaxing from herself and the group a straight and perfect version of an extraordinary song:

The second half was quite simply the best performance by a contemporary singer that it’s been my good fortune to witness. Joni sang about 14 songs, accompanying herself at the piano, with Appalachian harp, with guitar, and once again with the help of L.A. Express. Throughout she sang with unequalled grace: now quivering, now shrieking, now talking the lyrics in a manner that astonishes one how well it all fits together. The special highlights were “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” with a haunting off-stage solo from Tom Scott, a revamped version of her definitive romantic work “Both Sides Now” and the stomping finale “Raised on Robbery”:

The audience needed no second offer and they gave her a joyous standing ovation. She eventually returned and encored with “The Last Time I Saw Richard” followed by Annie Ross’ “Twisted”. Joni chatted about the song, as she had done earlier with “People’s Parties” and “For the Roses”, in a manner that displayed the intimate relationship she has with her audience. 

This record features the entire set performed by Joni Mitchell and LA Express that spring evening more 45 years ago, a concert which few have ever heard.

The year 1973 came and went without Joni Mitchell releasing a record, the first year she’d skipped since her debut five years earlier, and when 1974 arrived, January brought “Court and Spark”, adorned by a sophisticated sonic sensibility that would define her career from that moment forward. Joni Mitchell was an emblem of female empowerment, Mitchell has always retained publishing rights to her music and has produced, often solely, her own albums. Though primarily considered a pop artist, the songs she wrote carried a signature folk rock sound with a jazz influence. Mitchell’s success as a solo songwriter and singer in the 1970s music scene certainly gets us going.

As a woman, as an artist, Mitchell engages with and pushes against the norms of the industry, all the while retaining a singular sound and reputation.

“Court and Spark” the 1974 album, Mitchell’s sixth album release,  a concentrated effort for a hit record. This analysis pushes Mitchell toward the pop star image, but the album retains her signature influences from rock, including guest performers, as well as folk and jazz; the electric guitar features just as strongly as wind instruments. Court and Spark reached second spot in the United States in March of 1974, eventually receiving double-platinum certification. “Help Me,” “Free Man in Paris” and “Raised on Robbery” all became hit singles.

The construction of the album’s songs is complicated—and sounds it. Contoured, carefully interlocked arrangements provide inviting frames into which sober, pretty poetry nestles, masking sharp lyrical edges that emerge upon deeper listening. Backed by Tom Scott’s L.A. Express, the popular “Help Me” shows how it’s done, cloaking a heady contemplation of love and loneliness in an alluring sway. Mitchell scatters memorable refrains across its lyrical structure, with repeating bookends in each verse of, “Help me/I think I’m falling” to one side, and variations on “But not like we love our freedom” on the other.

Though over 40 years old, this album is surprisingly relevant today. For anyone sequestered in their home but still trying to navigate the online dating scene, “Help Me” resonates. The narrator frets about falling in love too quickly, while “hoping for the future/And worrying about the past.” We cannot help but think of the future and how good it will be—to wander outside, to sit in a bar, to hug someone—but we’ll never get to live in our future, post-COVID-19, the way we lived in our past. The catchy chorus finishes with “We love our lovin’/But not like we love our freedom,” which in this crisis I interpret as the collective freedom we will achieve when the spread of disease slows, which will happen faster if we refrain from breaking quarantine to date.

What lies between is decorated tastefully by the cool ring of Joe Sample’s electric piano and soft, punctuating inlays of Larry Carlton’s electric guitar. Engaging and plush, the arrangement ascends into a billowing bridge capped by an affirming “Didn’t it feel good,” wherein Mitchell’s singing entrances with percussive traces amid a shifting-yet-certain rhythm. Busy and finicky as it may be, the assembly has a natural flow and hits the ear beautifully, right down to the bass drum taps placed curiously high in the mix during its fadeout. “Help Me” would prove the biggest hit of her career, reaching as high as No#7 on the singles chart.

In relation to “Same Situation” Mitchell’s lyrics call for “somebody/Who’s strong and somewhat sincere,” suggesting a much more nuanced, if embittered, plea for partnership. The perennial search for love in music does not always call to mind the sacrifices we anticipate in the continual bargaining of partnership. The chorus ends with “Caught in my struggle for higher achievements/And my search for love,” echoing the dichotomy faced by countless women who have given up careers and other personal achievements in exchange for a partner and family in the decades before and since Court and Spark. In Mitchell’s lyrics, the female voice and figure receives a more nuanced, complicated, and bittersweet appraisal than one is accustomed to in comparable records of the time.

This also applies to “Raised on Robbery,” which is sonically different than most of the album. The opening bars are played on the electric guitar. Mitchell’s voice, supported by back-up vocalists, cuts in, in a style reminiscent of the vocalists of World War II-era songs like Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” or “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” I’ll describe it as sharp, harmonized vocals with understated instrumentals in the background. In Mitchell’s case, this style shortly gives way to a more contemporary style. Meanwhile, the lyrics quickly subvert the upbeat music with the sad tale of a woman struggling to make rent after a male relation drinks away the money that was supposed to help them survive. If anything, the fast-paced music, which adopts a jazz-folk feel, is indicative of the woman’s resolve in light of her unfortunate circumstances. Far more direct in every way is the crowd-pleasing “Raised on Robbery,” which lightens the album’s tone with its fun, funny yarn-spinning atop a propulsive groove for which Robbie Robertson’s electric guitar etchings are an ideal complement.

The craft on display in the song, “Free Man in Paris,” is equally noteworthy. Opening with a segue that sounds like an extension of “Help Me” (the album is among the most seamless ever assembled), “Free Man in Paris” establishes a complex yet airy structure richly decorated by the electric guitars of Carlton and Jose Feliciano, with background vocals from David Crosby and Graham Nash as polished support. It’s catchy and agreeable—the tribute to her friend David Geffen would chart as high as #22—and offers insight into Mitchell’s process. Its cadence never quite settles down, and she keeps it off-kilter on purpose, as when she jams “unfettered” into a line whose meter it doesn’t quite match, prioritizing the specific term over a concession to any number of two-syllable words that would have fit more comfortably.

The album is a deeply personal experience, a dance into the confessional softened by artful twists of observation. The subject matter aligns with sparse piano melodies like the one beneath the clear-eyed musing on romance “Same Situation.” The horn-dressed “Car on a Hill” is peppered with small flourishes, many of them murky, as it makes a haunting choral ascent for which Wayne Perkins’ electric guitar provides a sharp edge. Mitchell inhabits each turn with a worldly, matter-of-fact vocal approach, bringing a gently rendered urgency to the title track as she tells a story that purposefully avoids closure by song’s end.

One of Mitchell’s gifts is for lyrics that seem to be part of a stream of consciousness until they hit a punchline that makes them coalesce. “People’s Parties” is a dense 2:15, loaded with ideas and images like the clever reduction of its characters to owners of “passport smiles.” Evocative imaginings spill from the supple “Just Like This Train,” an easygoing jazz reminiscence on lost love that is equal parts sweetness and bite. “Down to You” is like a lengthy exhale. A mesmerizing contemplation of isolation summarized in the lyric “Everything comes and goes/Marked by lovers and styles of clothes,” it is a gloomy, utterly lovely piece of work, with climactic moments delivered in a tempo akin to sobbing. Tracing a lustrous piano melody across 5 ½ minutes, it resonates on multiple levels. It would earn an award the following year for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist, to mark the first of Mitchell’s nine Grammy wins.

The album’s closes by changing directions, in a pair of songs that share mental infirmity as a core concept. The first of them, “Trouble Child,” is a slinky shimmer punctuated by Chuck Findley’s cool trumpeting, John Guerin’s slender drum rattle and a mood-imposing electric guitar line from Dennis Budimir, which combine to create a ruminative flow that aligns with the tone and structure of the rest of the record. Less characteristic of the collection, and arguably anything in Mitchell’s catalogue, is a sprightly cover of the 1952 Annie Ross/Wardell Gray song “Twisted,” whose amusing personality (which includes a cameo from Cheech and Chong) and springy vocalese structure send off the record with a lively bounce.

The album was received warmly by critics and the marketplace, where it reached as high as #2 on the album chart, and would in the long term rank as the best-selling record in Mitchell’s catalogue. It also served as a signpost, highlighting an artist intent on following her muse wherever it might lead, which soon would entail far more experimental paths. As much as it sounds on its surface like an easy-listening jazz-pop record, Court and Spark was a significant pivot point, angling toward a future in which its creator would champion experimentation, and defy expectation.

May we all strive to achieve Joni Mitchell’s level of career power and lyrical grace.

Miles Of Aisles [Explicit]

Miles of Aisles is the seventh album by the Canadian Singer Songwriter Joni Mitchell, released in 1974 on Asylum Records . It was her first live album, a double album documenting her concerts in support of the Court and Spark album with her backing band for the tour, the Tom Scott L.A Express .  Recorded March 2nd – 4th and August 14th-17th 1974 The Universal Amphitheatre, Los Angeles Music Center and Berkeley Community Center. 

Joni Mitchell’s first live album arrived at the peak of her fame. Recorded a couple months after her breakthrough Court and Spark debuted, the Canadian singer-songwriter documented the California stops on the tour supporting the new LP. Performing an expansive collection of tracks from her 1968 debut Song to a Seagull onward, Miles of Aisles carefully avoided the hits. “No one ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a “Starry Night” again, man,'” said Mitchell before playing “Circle Game.” In 1991, she made the comparison: “I never wanted to turn into a human jukebox. I haven’t used up all my ideas yet. But I’m working in a pop field, and whether they’re going to allow an older woman to do that is an open question. It requires a loyal, interested audience who believes in my talent.

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Paul McCartney and Wings“Listen to What the Man Said” presents as a breezy romp, but sessions for the smash single were actually a painstaking drag. That is, until a key contributor came in and nailed his part on the very first try. “It was one of the songs we’d gone in with high hopes for,” McCartney said in 1975. “Whenever I would play it on the piano, people would say ‘Oh, I like that one.’ But when we did the backing track, we thought we didn’t really get it together at all.”

“Mainly we’re coming here to make our own album,” McCartney told local reporters back then. “I don’t like to come to a place and use too much of the local talent, because you get people saying, ‘Oh, they’re taking our style.” But New Orleans worked its way into the proceedings anyway.

Wings stayed at the Le Richelieu Hotel in the French Quarter, right in the middle of the annual Carnival festivities. During a break from recording, Paul and Linda dressed as a pair of clowns then actually waded into the crowds on February 1975, as revelers celebrated Mardi Gras. Wings went back the next day to complete a raucous future b-side called “My Carnival,” before returning to the still-unfinished “Listen What the Man Said.”

Dave Mason of Traffic fame happened to be in town on tour, so a frustrated McCartney brought him in. “A couple of the guys from Wings came by to the see the show, and we had a day off the next day,” said  Mason “They said: ‘Why don’t you come down to the studio? I’m sure Paul would love to see you.’ So, I just stopped by, and they happened to be cutting ‘Listen to What the Man Said.’ Paul was, like: ‘Hey, c’mon, you should sit in with us.'”

McCartney still remained dissatisfied. At this point, a song that ended up as the gold-selling lead single from Venus and Mars seemed to be going absolutely nowhere. Mulling it over, McCartney hit upon another idea: “We thought it would be great to have a very technical musician come in and do a great lyrical solo,” That’s when someone in the studio mentioned that Tom Scott, the well-known jazz saxophonist, lived nearby. “We said, ‘Yeah, give him a ring, see if he turns up,’ and he turned up within half an hour!” McCartney said. “There he was with his sax, and he sat down in the studio playing through. The engineer [Alan O’Duffy] was recording it. We kept all the notes he was playing casually. [Scott] came in and I said ‘I think that’s it.’ He said ‘Did you record that?’ I said yes, and we listened to it back.”

The instrumental track for “Listen to What the Man Said” was finally complete. “No one could believe it, so [Scott] went out and tried a few more,” McCartney told Gambaccini, “but they weren’t as good. He’d had all the feel on this early take, the first take.”

As McCartney completed the vocal, O’Duffy added a barely heard Easter egg, positioned right after Paul sings “soldier boy kisses girl.” “I do remember exactly that it was lovely Linda who did the kiss on a microphone during one of the vocal takes,” O’Duffy said in Luca Perasi’s Paul McCartney: Recordings Sessions. “I made a point of making sure it was audible in the mix later at Wally Heider Studios.”

Issued on May 16, 1975, “Listen to What the Man Said” became Paul McCartney and Wings‘ eighth consecutive and the fourth of their seven total No. 1 singles.

Mason and Scott became part of a group of outside collaborators on Venus and Mars. Toussaint played piano on “Rock Show.” Local legends George Porter Jr. and Benny Spellman appeared on “My Carnival.” O’Duffy also hired trombonist and arranger Tony Dorsey, an area native; Dorsey then brought in some college buddies to complete the horn section.

In a final nod to his Big Easy surroundings, McCartney attached a pre-song sentence to “Listen What the Man Said”: “Alright, okay, very good to see you down in New Orleans, man – yeah reet, yeah yeah,” he mumbled, impersonating Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli. McCartney later invited the Meters to play at the release party for Venus and Mars, held aboard the Queen Mary out of Long Beach, Calif.

As a further addition to the Paul McCartney Collection of Re-issues the two Wings albums VENUS AND MARS and WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND were issued at the end of September 2014, originally recorded in 1975 and 1976 they were made available as a standard 2CD set and a deluxe 2CD 1 DVD and Book with 135 pages of photos and memorabilia, all included unreleased tracks and demos. these releases are following the superb sets of BAND ON THE RUN, McCARTNEY and McCARTNEY II and the live set WINGS OVER AMERICA,