Joni Mitchell: "Turbulent Indigo" Song by Song Thread

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Parachute Woman, Jan 8, 2019.

  1. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    We continue with Joni Mitchell's 1994 Grammy winning album Turbulent Indigo. My heartfelt thanks to everyone still sticking with me (and with Joni!)

    Previous threads in this series
    Joni Mitchell: "Night Ride Home" Song by Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm" Song by Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Dog Eat Dog" Song by Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Wild Things Run Fast" Song by Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Mingus" Song By Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" Song By Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Hejira" Song by Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" Song By Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Court and Spark" Song By Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "For the Roses" Song By Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Blue" Song By Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Ladies of the Canyon" Song By Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Clouds" Song By Song Thread
    Joni Mitchell: "Song to a Seagull" Song By Song Thread

    Turbulent Indigo

    Album Notes
    Released October 25, 1994

    Produced by Joni Mitchell and Larry Klein
    Recorded and Mixed by Dan Marnien at The Kiva
    Mastered by Bernie Grundman
    Assistant Engineers: Julie Last, Paula "Max" Schape and Paul Lundin
    Production Coordination: Paula "Max" Schaper and Marsha Burns

    All songs written by Joni Mitchell except
    How Do You Stop by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight
    Yvette in English by Joni Mitchell and David Crosby

    All songs published 1994 Crazy Crow Music BMI
    except How Do You Stop © 1986 EMI Blackwood Music Inc./Janiceps Music BMI/EMI April Music Inc./Second Nature Music Inc. ASCAP
    and Yvette In English © 1993 Crazy Crow Music/Stay Straight Music BMI
    Lyrics Reprinted by Permission. All Rights Reserved.

    Paintings © Joni Mitchell

    Wayne Shorter appears courtesy of Elektra Entertainment
    Seal appears cortesy of ZTT Records Ltd. & Sire Records Company

    Art Direction Joni Mitchell and Robbie Cavolina
    Paintings by Joni Mitchell
    Photography by Robbie Cavolina

    Peter Asher Management Inc.


    Turbulent Indigo is the 15th album by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. Released in 1994, it won a Grammy Award for Pop Album of the Year. John Milward, writing for Rolling Stone, wrote that it was Mitchell's "best album since the mid-'70s".[6]

    The album marked her return to Warner Music (formerly WEA) distribution after her previous album, Night Ride Home, was distributed by MCA for its then-newly purchased subsidiary Geffen Records (which, prior to the sale to MCA, had distributed through WEA).

    The album takes inspiration from the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh for Mitchell's self-portrait on the cover. The song "Turbulent Indigo" references Van Gogh, while the song "Magdalene Laundries" recounts the sufferings of Irish women once consigned to Magdalen Asylums run by the Roman Catholic Church and made to work in the asylum's laundries. The song "Not to Blame" was rumored to be about Mitchell's singer-songwriting colleague Jackson Browne who was alleged to have beaten his girlfriend, actress Daryl Hannah; Mitchell denies this.[citation needed]. The song "Sex Kills" referenced a number of late 20th century topical issues, including violence, AIDS, global warming and consumerism.

    As of December 2007, the album has sold 311,000 copies in the US. [7]

    ** NOTE: If any of you have or will read the Reckless Daughter biography by David Yaffe published last year (and you should, as it is very good) he does make rather a large error in one of the later chapters. He seems to be under the impression that Turbulent Indigo won Album of the Year at the 1996 Grammys, and compares the situation to Bob Dylan winning AOTR for Time Out of Mind. Turbulent Indigo won for Best Pop Vocal Album, over albums by Mariah Carey, Eagles, Annie Lennox and Madonna. Album of the Year (the top prize of the year) was won that evening by Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette. Joni was not nominated in that category. **

    Contemporary Reviews
    "The license plate read "Just Ice." On a car driving around in Los Angeles' Brentwood section, it could have been another hip-hop nickname.

    But when Joni Mitchell spotted it, she saw the word "justice" broken apart. And that planted the idea for what became the theme of her 17th and latest album, "Turbulent Indigo."

    "It got me generally thinking, ‘What is justice, and what is injustice?' " explains Mitchell, 50, a new nominee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who keeps residences in Los Angeles and in rural British Columbia. "Injustice is everywhere. You see acts of justice as small kindnesses here and there. But for the most part you see that the culture is greedy and unfair and violent and sick.

    "Coincidentally, in my search for justice, the injustices that seemed to be jumping out at me from most places were women's issues."

    "Turbulent Indigo," due in stores Tuesday, offers a wide ranging examination of these issues across its 10 songs. Some are angry; others are brooding. And the album is filled with images of the suffering and sulking – some compared to Job and to Blanche Du Bois from "A Streetcar Names Desire" – beaten down by the injustices society has wrought."
    Detroit Free Press, October 1994

    "The voice is deeper and sometimes frayed. The sentiments are darker, more full of dread, than ever before.

    But there's only one Joni Mitchell, and the artistry of the 50-year-old Canadian folk poet is compelling on "Turbulent Indigo" (Reprise 9 45786), her first new album in three years.

    A brooding 43-minute survey of contemporary America's ills from battered wives and intolerance to oil spills and injustice, it's no exaggeration to call the album a work of art.

    To begin with, the trifold CD booklet showcases six of Mitchell's robustly impressionist paintings, including a swirling self-portrait in which she zanily injects her own face into Vincent Van Gogh's famous "Self-Portrait With Bandaged Head," which he painted in 1889 a month after he severed part of his ear.

    The title song refers to one of the Dutch painter's favorite colors and to the hypocrisy of those who worship him but wouldn't let "the madman" anywhere near were he still alive.

    Like the other nine songs, the arrangement has an acoustic simplicity with occasional enhancement from electronic keyboards and overdubbing. Mitchell sings, plays guitar, keyboards and percussion, with husband Larry Klein on bass and jazz great Wayne Shorter on soprano sax."
    Denver Post, November 1994

    ""Let me speak," sings Joni Mitchell on "The Sire of Sorrow (Job's Sad Song)," "let me spit out my bitterness." Few songwriters could write, let alone convincingly convey, such blunt, honest language. Mitchell's words are honed by a life dedicated to the notion that songs, like all great art, can illuminate deeper truths. Plenty has been written about the rockers of the '60s hitting their 50s, but Mitchell is virtually the only female pop star to pass that mark with her artistry undiminished. Turbulent Indigo is Mitchell's best album since the mid-70's and a work that is highly musical, poetic and very, very sad.

    The stark, precise language of Turbulent Indigo will draw comparisons to Blue (1971), but the songs and arrangements also recall the pop rock of Court and Spark (1974) and, to a lesser degree, the meditative jazzy style of Hejira (1976). The sound is spare, with songs anchored by the singer's piano ("Not to Blame") or guitar ("Borderline"). It's on guitar, however, that Mitchell's a true stylist, with a technique characterized by unorthodox tunings and a strum peppered with percussive fills."
    Rolling Stone, December 1994

    "It has been 23 years since Joni Mitchell released BLUE, a lapidary album that used vivid poetry and sun-washed melodies to enrich the palette of contemporary folk music. Now and then, over time, Mitchell's commercial fortunes have stalled, but her determination has never wavered. Her forays into jazz (MINGUS, THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS) cost her some fans but cemented her reputation as a provocative innovator, and by 1985 her lyrics had taken on an increasingly political bite.

    TURBULENT INDIGO, her first album in three years, is steeped in an even deeper shade of BLUE. The hallmarks of Mitchell's signature sound are abundantly evident - the crystalline arrangements; the unorthodox guitar tunings; the fluid, bittersweet melodies. Her voice, which has taken on a smoky flavor, can still soar through clouds of bass and piano. There are flashes of wry humor - as in her depiction of a comically inept Lothario in YVETTE IN ENGLISH.

    At the same time, TURBULENT INDIGO is weighted heavily with the conviction that the world has snapped its moorings. Moody and mordant, its 10 songs evoke smog-choked vistas, the scourge of AIDS and the bloodless wounds of love - all presented as symptoms of a universal malaise. On SEX KILLS, sirens echo ominously behind an insistent beat as Mitchell sings, "The ulcerated ozone/These tumors of the skin/This hostile sun beatin' down on/This massive mess we're in!...And sex sells everything/And sex kills." The album title, Mitchell says, "refers to the turbulent blues of this warring, frenzied climate that we live in, riddled with plagues and wars and divisionalism." This sense of chaos struck home with the dissolution of her marriage to bassist Larry Klein, who, despite their separation, co-produced and played on the album. "It didn't color the record," she says of the breakup,"even though it got a little tense in the studio at times."
    Time, December 1994
  2. Bryce

    Bryce Forum Resident

    New York City
    Love this record. Would love to see it get a vinyl release.
    Parachute Woman likes this.
  3. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    @Planbee @Geee! @mark winstanley @lightbulb @Squealy @VU Master @Socalguy @Dr. Pepper @Black Thumb @Fortysomething @Sordel @qwerty @Newton John @Smiler @smilin ed @pbuzby @Comet01 @HenryFly @bob_32_116 @maui jim @chrisblower @Damiano54 @gregorya @Ostinato

    And here's our first track:

    Track 1: "Sunny Sunday"

    Joni's site unfortunately does not have the musician breakdowns for the tracks on this album. But that's definitely Mr. Shorter on sax.

    Lyrical Excerpt:
    She pulls the shade
    It's just another sunny Sunday
    She dodges the light like Blanche DuBois
    Bright colors fade away on such a sunny Sunday
    She waits for the night to fall
    Then she points a pistol through the door
    And she aims at the streetlight
    While the freeway hisses
    Dogs bark as the gun falls to the floor
    The streetlight's still burning
    She always misses
    But the day she hits
    That's the day she'll leave
    That one little victory, that's all she needs
    She pulls the shade
    It's just another sunny Monday
    She waits for the night to fall

    Complete Lyrics at Joni Mitchell's Official Site
  4. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Sunny Sunday
    What an amazing opener. Joni has proven time and time again that she is a true master at picking the right song to open her releases, whether it be a title track like 'Night Ride Home' or 'Court and Spark' or something to perfectly set the mood and capture the tone (like 'All I Want' or 'Coyote'). 'Sunny Sunday' is not even three minutes long, but so much is packed into that brief time. The title seems like it's going to be a happy song, but instead we find ourselves thrown instantly into the rich poetic grace of this often very dark, very sad record. Oh, but the lyrics. I said 'lyrical excerpt' as I have been doing for many threads, but those are actually the lyrics in full I posted up there. And I think they stand alone as an amazing poem, even without music. Joni Mitchell is (as I have made quite plain in these threads!) my favorite lyricist ever and, even with a few missteps in the '80s, she never lost her amazing gift for words and storytelling. We know everything we need to know about this sad, frustrated, lonely women framed into the Tennessee Williams light, pulling out her pistol. It's a sharp, surprising little story full of emotion. Paired with Joni's now fully mature (smoky) voice and the spectral presence of Wayne Shorter, it feels like nighttime in the South, with the air still hot even though the sun has gone down. I love this one.

    Turbulent Indigo
    I so love this record. I know it's very sad in many places, but I think Joni's songwriting is just astonishing on this record and I love the sound and feel of it as well. It's a mature, graceful, intense kind of listen and it has brought me to tears on occasion. I'm so glad to see a Joni painting on the cover again and capturing her as Vincent Van Gogh works beautifully for the flavors of Turbulent Indigo.
  5. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Here's Joni backstage at the Grammys in early 1996, talking with the press about her two awards that evening. She also won for Best Recording Package (w/ Robbie Cavolina):

    She's so very Joni in this, I love it. Delightful. She talks about winning for both music and visual art (her two passions) and why she hadn't won Grammys in the past, as well as 1996 being dubbed "the year of the woman." Really worth a watch. I couldn't find the footage of her actually winning during the ceremony. Not on YouTube, I don't think.
    Marble Index likes this.
  6. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Here's the personnel for this record, according to Wiki:
    And another video...This is a live special aired on Canadian music channel Much Music on September 23, 1994 to promote Turbulent Indigo. Live performance + storytelling = Joni Mitchell bliss. It's over an hour but truly excellent and really captures Joni in 1994.

  7. smilin ed

    smilin ed Forum Resident

    Her best work since Don Juan...

    Particularly like Magdalene Laundries, the title track, How Do You Stop, Last Chance Lost and Yvette in English.
  8. Socalguy

    Socalguy Forum Resident

    I really enjoy Turbulent Indigo. It's got a similar sound and feel to Night Ride Home, but I don't think it has any songs as strong as the first three on the latter. As for “Sunny Sunday” ... great opener, seems almost like an overture. Love her edgy voice, the rhythm, the signature strum, and Shorter’s minimalist sax is brilliant, as usual. But talk about major downers ... this is one depressing set of lyrics. A nutty recluse on a quixotic quest to extinguish a streetlight? Yikes.
    Parachute Woman likes this.
  9. Socalguy

    Socalguy Forum Resident

    Great clip. Watch her fingers beginning at ~ 2:00
  10. uncarvedbloke

    uncarvedbloke Forum Resident

    I bought this 6 months ago in a pile (136) of jazz CDs and have been playing it in bed every morning for the last few weeks. I will chip in when I have listened to it when I am not lying down. :)
    Parachute Woman likes this.
  11. Planbee

    Planbee Nothing To See Here

    Maybe still being half asleep is the key to liking this album... :hide:

  12. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    John, I am genuinely interested: why do you think you like Taming the Tiger so much more than Indigo or Night Ride Home? I wouldn't say that they are sonically all that different from one another.
    DmitriKaramazov likes this.
  13. Fortysomething

    Fortysomething Forum Resident

    Chicago, Illinois




    Sorry to be exuberant, but seriously, it's a mystery to me why a Grammy winning album hasn't been reissued - this is pretty much made for a limited run RSD kind of thing, if they don't want to do a big pressing.
  14. Fortysomething

    Fortysomething Forum Resident

    Chicago, Illinois
    As a PS to my post from yesterday, it dawned on me that this is the 25th anniversary of the album....all the more reason why a reissue would make sense. Fingers crossed.
  15. bob_32_116

    bob_32_116 Forum Resident

    Perth Australia
    I didn't realise we had already done the Night Ride Home album! No matter - I don't have the album and I don't remember much about it, so I'll have to give that one a couple of listens before chiming in on that thread.

    Regarding Turbulent Indigo: this was definitely a return to form after the - let's just say "patchy" albums of the Geffen years.

    I have favourites on this album, but there's no song that I dislike. "Sunny Sunday" is a great track, though as someone said it feels a little like an overture - nothing wrong with that of course.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2019
  16. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter


    Track 2: "Sex Kills"

    The ghostly, fiery guitar on this track was played by Michael Landau.

    Lyrical Excerpt:
    I pulled up behind a Cadillac
    We were waiting for the light
    And I took a look at his license plate
    It said, "Just Ice"
    Is justice just ice?
    Governed by greed and lust?
    Just the strong doing what they can
    And the weak suffering what they must?
    Oh, and the gas leaks
    And the oil spills
    And sex sells everything
    Sex kills

    Complete Lyrics at Joni Mitchell's Official Site
    DmitriKaramazov likes this.
  17. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Sex Kills
    There might actually be more televised performances of 'Sex Kills' than any other song in Joni's catalog. She promoted this album quite a bit and played this track all over the place. Here she is doing it on Leno in 1995, along with a brief interview (cute interview...they talk about Prince!):

    It's a strong, engaging track. While it has impassioned, commentary-style lyrics, I don't find it off-putting in the way I did some of the tracks on Dog Eat Dog. I just think the lyrics are more interesting and poetic than the blunt stuff we were getting on stuff like 'Tax Free.' She weaves in a lot of what was going on in the mid '90s, from AIDS to the beginnings of school shootings (and this was pre-Columbine). But the lyrics are visual as hell ('ulcerated ozone') and the lyric about Robespierre is fantastic. It's actually a bit of wit and slyness, which helps keep the song from being a complete downer.

    The melody is also very enjoyable with a nice thrust to it and good movement and a mood in keeping with the lyrics. It feels 'urban' in some way, matching that opening lyric about the license plate. I really like this one and I can see why Joni used it to promote the record. I love her solo acoustic versions of it, with that amazing Joni Mitchell signature guitar, but I like what Michael Landau did on the studio track as well. Heavy guitar, but like an apparition seething in the background.
  18. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    And if you prefer Dave to Leno:

    DmitriKaramazov likes this.
  19. bob_32_116

    bob_32_116 Forum Resident

    Perth Australia
    Not much I can add to this. This is social commentary, but done the way it should be, rather than the awkward hectoring manner of songs like "The Three Great Stimulants" and "Tax Free".

    This song actually grooves, in a way she had not grooved since "Good Friends". Possibly my favourite from the album.
    Parachute Woman likes this.
  20. Squealy

    Squealy Forum Hall Of Fame

    I wonder whose license plate it was that said "Just Ice." It feels like it had to have been someone famous. Ice-T? Ice Cube? Vanilla Ice?
  21. bob_32_116

    bob_32_116 Forum Resident

    Perth Australia
    or, possibly, just made up by Joni.

    I don't know what the rules are over there about what's allowed on personalised licence plates, but I recently read an amusing Western Australian newspaper report listing some of the personalised numberplates that people had submitted and had been rejected, along with some of the more amusing ones that had been accepted. There is a fairly short list of categories that are no-nos; no obscenity, nothing pertaining to religion, nothing that could be construed as advocating breaking the law, no racial, sexist or homophobic slurs, that sort of thing. "Ice" being a slang term for a drug that is currently illegal, I'm fairly certain that would be disallowed.
  22. jlf

    jlf Custom Title Unlocked

    United States
    It was indeed an LA rapper, I don’t remember the name, though.

    This really is a fine, fine album. A “late-career triumph,” as they say. Kicked off with “Borderline,” which was registered in ‘92. (Originally entitled “Just A Borderline.”) She sang it in 1993 at the Troubadours of Folk Festival at UCLA. It was filmed and broadcast on PBS but didn’t make it onto the official laserdisc and VHS releases. Interestingly enough, she plays it in a different tuning in the show than on the album...

    Then “Yvette In English,” her fax machine co-write with Crosby is a wonderful example of sculpting out an idea into something of real beauty. I’ll dig up that original lyric when we get to

    Other highlights—“Last Chance Lost.” What a triumph. “Sire of Sorrow” is one of the best of her career. Love the title track. “Sex Kills” is lower on my favorites list but still very good, and there’s a certain beauty in her cover of Janes Brown’s “How Do You Stop.” The only real head scratcher is the scathing “Not to Blame”...the musical origins of which are very interesting...

    But back to “Sunny Sunday”—I always laugh at her story of how she used the tri-tone “devil’s interval” on this song. She seems really thrilled and proud to have done something that was proven to be harmonically subversive. It’s ironic that she’s done so much more harmonically compelling stuff on other songs!

    Other songs from this period worth mentioning:
    - The acoustic live take on “Just Like This Train” from the How Do You Stop single
    - “Love’s Cries” (later “Crazy Cries of Love”) and “Happiness Is the Best Facelift” (later “Face Lift”)—Both completes by Summer of ‘94.

    Other projects:
    - planned live album of the Gene Autry Museum gig
    - planned box set retrospective that later became the Hits/Misses collections
    Parachute Woman likes this.
  23. Fortysomething

    Fortysomething Forum Resident

    Chicago, Illinois
    Yes - I think after trying to work social commentary into synth and other new (to her) music forms on the earlier post Mingus albums, she really gets comfortable with the balance here and hits it out of the park. It's also one of her most unique songs, sound wise. Nothing else sounds like it.
    Parachute Woman likes this.
  24. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Great stuff! Performances of Crazy Cries of Love and Face Lift are included in that Hour and a half Much Music special I linked above. And I love the new version of Just Like This Train. I included this 1996 Letterman performance in the Court and Spark thread when we discussed the song initially, but here it is again for good measure:

    Absolutely love her guitar work on this. The '90s was a great era for Joni. She seemed like she was in a great place, and making great art too. The reunion with her daughter was just upcoming...
  25. AlecA

    AlecA Forum Resident

    New Hampshire, USA
    "Sunny Sunday" (the first song on the album) always felt to me like a follow up to the last song on Night Ride Home, "Two Grey Rooms." The same person, same apartment, but some years later.

    It is telling that, other than Sunny Sunday, the only other songs I like are "How Do You Stop" and "Yvette in English" one a cover and the other a collaboration.

    I dutifully bought this when it came out, but I didn't expect much, and my expectations were met.

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