Blue: One Song At A Time

Undercover: Joni Mitchell’s Blue
Freight & Salvage
Berkeley, CA
January 21, 2013

Blue: One Song At A Time

Undercover presents a classic album one song at a time, each song performed by a different artist.  It is like 10 one-song concerts in one evening.  Initially, I feared that ping-ponging between different musical styles would lead to a disjointed evening with uncomfortably long breaks as each performer set up.  Last night’s presentation of Joni Mitchell’s Blue included versions of her songs by an Indian singer, an electronic looper, Brazilian tropicalia band, jazz artists and more.   Despite this disparate group, each performance stood on its own and, united by Joni Mitchell’s poetry and lyricism, made for a wonderful evening of inspiring and engaging music- even if each performance was a bit of a band teaser leaving you wanting more.

Blue helped to establish Joni Mitchell as one of the most preeminent and influential singer-songwriters of the 1970s.  Despite her warbling soprano, I think it was always the honest poetry of her lyrics that drew in listeners.  And Blue is no exception.  The songs are filled with poignant longing and beautiful descriptions of Joni’s emotional entanglements, from All I Want to The Last Time I Saw Richard.  Her paean to California perfectly captures the laid back beauty of California and concludes with her painfully bare question, “Will you accept me as I am?”  The album also contains River which is perhaps one of her most popular songs and has been rerecorded by many artists and featured in many movies and TV shows.

The night of Joni opened with KillBossa doing an excellent Brazilian Tropicalia version of All I Want.   This was followed by two of the evening’s highlights.  A stunning version of My Old Man by Bharathi, an Indian singer with an outrageous voice, and Daniel, a jazz bassist, whose spare accompaniment was perfect.  And then Kelly McFarling played Little Green in an Americana Folk style.  Her voice is reminiscent of Zoe Deschanel and was certainly unexpected.  I also loved her use of the banjo as an accompaniment.   The Beth Custer Ensemble played a jazzy version of Carey and Kitka, a caped women’s choir, performed Blue a cappella.

In between the songs, a rather ineffective juggling team performed pranks and were rather annoying.

The second set began with Amy X Neuberg performing an engrossing looped version of California.  The tempo picked up with a couple of funky, jazzy versions of This Flight Tonight and A Case of You sandwiched around a old-timey River.  The show ended with a lovely version of The Last Time I Saw Richard by Katy Stephan and Classical Revolution.

Listening to accomplished musicians reimagine an classic album of touching poetry was inspirational.  A great night.  I will definitely look for more Undercover performances in the future.  

Click here to listen to a sampler.

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