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Love Is Blue: Hannah Reimann’s Healing Journey thru the Joni Mitchell Songbook

joni mitchell, hannah reimann, both sides now

Singer Hannah Reimann presentss songs from Joni Mitchell’s early career in the stage show Both Sides Now.

Both Sides Now: Songs of Joni Mitchell 1966 – 1974

Hannah Reimann, Lead Vocals, Piano and Dulcimer
Michele Temple, Guitars and Backing Vocals

Austin Pendleton, Director

Irondale Center
85 South Oxford Street, Brooklyn, New York 11217

A Song and A Celebration…
2019 is not only notable for the 50th Anniversary of the original Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, but also as the 75th birthday year of Joni Mitchell, the author of that gathering’s famous titular song. So it’s fitting that New York vocalist and pianist Hannah Reimann would choose to mount a feature length stage presentation highlighting Mitchell’s early works.

The two woman performance is being presented as part of a theatrical celebration at Brooklyn’s Irondale Center  called the On Women Festival. It includes the stage productions Grounded and The Franca Rame Project.

Way To Blue…
Both Sides Now: Songs of Joni Mitchell 1966-1974 presents over nearly 20 songs from the singer/songwriters’ first six albums – some well known, some deep-catalog. During the show Reimann anchors the tunes historically with a series of concise and enlightening anecdotes that afford the listener insight into the details of Mitchell’s creative life. Reimann also recounts her own story and that the inception of her Mitchell exploration came during a time when she was caring for her father who was suffering from the onset of trauma-related dementia.

As her family responsibilities cut her off from personal work Hannah set out to learn the songs that comprise Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue as a creative respite. In fact Hannah not only gained “comfort and consultation” from her deep dive into Joni’s autobiographical song catalog but ultimately turned her cinematic eye to her own circumstances and directed My Father’s House, A Journey of Love and Memory, a documentary about she and her family’s experiences as caregivers in their father’s last years.

The gravitas of it’s beginnings aside, Both Sides Now is an enjoyable musical excursion thanks to Reimann’s ability to channel Joni’s lilt and conversational but melodic delivery. Guitarist Michele Temple accompanies the singer using a variety of six-strings to cover Mitchell’s often idiosyncratic tunings. Kudos to her for the ease with which she shifts through those alternate chord voicings.

Even those not completely immersed in Mitchell’s work will hear her influence in the songs of her Laurel Canyon companions. It was a creative scene that revolved around the musical matchmaking of Cass Elliot (aka “Mama Cass” of The Mamas and The Papas). It included David Crosby, Graham Nash, Carole King, Stephen Stills, Dave Mason, James Taylor and others. Joni was even the inspiration for “the girl with the flowers in her hair” in Led Zeppelin’s homage to hippiedom, “Going To California.”

Inversely, Joni’s earliest work shows signs of her interest in the music of fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen. It is specifically obvious in the resemblance between “Cactus Tree” and Cohen’s “Suzanne.” Both Mitchell and Cohen share folk music icon Judy Collins as the songstress who helped introduce their work to the public at large.

joni mitchell, hannah reimann, both sides now, michele temple

Hannah Reimann (left) and Michele Temple present Both sides Now, The Songs of Joni Mitchell 1966-1974 at Brooklyn’s Irondale Center.

It’s Life’s Illusions I Recall…
From our current vantage point Mitchell could be tagged as that quintessential flower-child but, Both Sides Now affords us a critical listen to lyrics that reveal she was always an astute reporter of the times. “They won’t give peace a chance, but it was just a dream we had” (“California”) shows a willingness to face the reality that the summer of love was a fleeting moment of hope. Reimann’s commentary points out that even in 1971 Mitchell was ruminating on the inevitably of “being put out to pasture” by the popular music industry in the unvarnished lyrics of “For The Roses.”

Remember the days when you used to sit
And make up your tunes for love
And pour your simple sorrow
To the soundhole and your knee

And now you’re seen
On giant screens
And at parties for the press
And for people who have slices of you
From the company

They toss around your latest golden egg
Speculation well who’s to know
If the next one in the nest
Will glitter for them so

joni mitchell, hannah reimann, both sides now, michele temple

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ’til It’s Gone…
I am mainly familiar with the staples of Joni Mitchell’s catalog as played on FM Radio. Both Sides Now sent me back to explore the nooks and crannies of the early albums with very rewarding results.

As Reimann noted, some of her recent audiences have been only vaguely aware of the depth of Mitchell’s songbook and one goals of the presentation is to build a wider appreciation. Those only familiar with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s adaptation of “Woodstock” owe it to themselves to hear the original piano driven version, which for me was a highlight of the Irondale show.

SkeletonPete Says…
As either a wonderful retrospective for the Joni devotee or a primer for those who missed the point first time around or were born too late, Both Sides Now should be seen and heard first hand.

Tickets for performances at 9PM on Friday, May 3, and Saturday, May 4 are available from the Irondale Center website.

Traveling Monkberries: Rhino’s Barrel of New & Old

the monkees, rhino records
Rhino Records drops some new Monkees music on us as we wait for the release of their spruced up TV series BluRay Box Set. All 58 episodes of snarky lunacy that melded the Marx Brothers with pop culture of 1960’s West Coast America will appear in the midst of innumerable bonus features. Those extras include the group’s only feature film Head as well as the even more challenging final television special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee. The mega-set can be ordered at the Monkees’ official website only, and is limited to 10,000 copies world wide.
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Hey-Hey! Monkee Micky Live @BB King’s Blues Club

MickyDolenz_BBK0714_018
When I was a little girl, I fell in love with the antics of the made-for-TV musical foursome, The Monkees. Each week Davy, Peter, Mike and Micky sang and played their way into our hearts. With hits like Pleasant Valley Sunday, Last Train the Clarksville, I’m a Believer and Daydream Believer, written by some of the era’s best known songwriters (Carole King, Neil Diamond, Boyce & Hart), the music group (comprised of young actors and musicians) rocketed to fame. Some of my fondest memories can be traced back to those early days watching, and singing along with, The Monkees.

monkeesTVband

Long after The Monkees ended their TV series and the band broke up, we still enjoy their hits. I’ve been fortunate enough to see one particular Monkee three times now.

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Micky and Friends…
Micky Dolenz is always a treat. Whether he is performing with The Monkees (as in the reunion tour I had the good fortune to see two years ago), or on his own, he never fails to entertain. Last week, I saw Micky on stage with his own band, which includes his sister Gemma ‘Coco’ Dolenz (vocals, percussion), Wayne Avers (guitar, vocals), Dave Alexander (keyboards, vocals), John Billings (bass), Aviva Maloney (saxophone, keyboards, vocals), and Rich Dart (drums).

Fun and self-effacing, the energetic 69-year-old Dolenz (in his trademark hat and vest) performed two sets (mostly Monkees hits) and sounded very much as I remembered him. Although I was disappointed he couldn’t play guitar (not drums like we were used to seeing in the TV series) on Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze this time around due to a wrist injury (Supposedly in a tussle with 19 Somali pirates he had to fend off with a cocktail olive sword!?!? I wonder if Tom Hanks was around for that?), that didn’t stop him from giving his all. From Mary Mary, to Steppin’ Stone, to Words (one of my favorites), the hits kept on coming, with the crowd singing right along for emphasis.

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Noteworthy Moments…
Long-time singing partner, sister Coco, had the spotlight a few times herself, surprising and delighting the crowd with Different Drum (made popular by Linda Ronstadt and written by fellow MonkeeMike Nesmith) and Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit.

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For me, the enjoyment of a fellow Whovian in the audience (dressed as David Tennant’s 10th Doctor), complete with Sonic Screwdriver, just added to my entertainment and amusement. All roads lead back to Doctor Who for me, but I digress…

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Andy Says…
It’s hard for me to set aside nostalgia and sentimentality and why should I? A good time was certainly had by all. And for fans, both old and young, Micky Dolenz and Friends kept us singing and dancing in our seats all night long.

If you get a chance to catch them in a city near you, I urge you to see Micky and his band. You won’t be disappointed. Many thanks to BB King Blues Club (my first time there and hopefully not my last) for the opportunity to cover the show.

Links and More…
For more on Micky Dolenz, his tour dates, music, and theatre performances, visit his site.
For more on Coco Dolenz, check out her site.

Goin’ Back: Carole King’s Legendary Demos Released

Carole King - The Legendary Demos

I just finished reading The Wrecking Crew, Kent Hartman’s overview of the session musicians that played on so many Top 40 radio hits (to be reviewed here shortly), and began Carole King’s memoir A Natural Woman when along comes this perfect sonic compliment to both. Carole King – The Legendary Demos is exactly as its title describes, a collection of 13 of King’s recordings originally created to pitch her tunes to the various artists who sometimes turned them into million selling hits.

Embryonic Journey…
Demos offer a glimpse at a song’s embryonic state and insight into the writer’s initial intent. It’s always interesting the hear how a songwriter interprets their own works when definitive versions have been rendered by others and are ingrained in the public mind. The author’s version usually pales in the shadow of the hit but King’s demos reveal that her distinct phrasings and pronunciations were often copied directly as if learned phonetically. There is a lot more “Carole” in the hit versions than one would have imagined. Her vocal arranging skills, honed from her high school days, are well represented in even her earliest tapes. Background and response vocals were for the most part copied verbatim by the recording artists and producers. While you’d would be hard pressed not to prefer Aretha Franklin’s (“You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” you’ll also be surprised to hear how closely the feel of the demo is followed.

Stripped to basics, tunes like “Take Good Care of My Baby” point out the melodic nuances and rhythmic patterns King delineated in her piano work. It’s enlightening to examine how arrangers took many of those simple cues and turned them into lush string or horn counterpoints. Alternately you can hear how efficiently King could pitch a tune by approximating the style of established artists. Her harmonies on what became The Everly Brothers hit “Crying In the Rain” highlight that ability.

You Win Some, You Lose Some…
A perfect example of how demoes could be surpassed or lost in the translation is heard on the first two tracks. While Carole’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday” offers a lyrically sophisticated rumination on the quirks of 1960’s suburbia it lacks the signature guitar lick we’ve all come to associate with the tune. The Monkees version, produced by Chip Douglas (also the tune’s bassist) introduced Mike Nesmith’s fuel injected riff (based on George Harrison’s “I Want To Tell You”) and set it on a trajectory for the top of the charts.

On the other hand The Monkees reading of “So Goes Love” as recorded for their eponymous first album, but left unreleased until the first Missing Links compendium, totally misses the mark. King’s demo reveals it as “one that got away”. Had it been completed more closely to her demonstration tape – especially the complex background harmonies – it could have easily been a chart topper.

Ladies (and Gentlemen) of the Canyon…
Eventually Carole King left her Brill Building roots and along with Joni Mitchell, Jackie DeShannon, James Taylor and CSNY helped to usher in the Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter model that became a staple of 70’s FM rock. Her album Tapestry, sold millions of copies and made her a star in her own right. Quite honestly the demos for songs King made famous herself are less exciting to hear because they feel less revelatory.

SkeletonPete Says…
It’s an exceptional treat to have these sometimes bootlegged recordings available in excellent condition to explore. They are as enjoyable to hear as they are historically valuable. What’s missing for me? I would have loved the inclusion of two gems from The Monkees soundtrack to Head, “Porpoise Song” and “As We Go Along.” With her memoir topping the New York Times best seller list and interest renewed in the author’s back catalog I’m hoping a second helping of legendary demos will be in the offing soon.