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Mingus is the tenth studio album by the Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell and was released in 1979. This was a collaboration with jazz musician Charles Mingus (who I must admit I've never heard of) and I found it very different from the early acoustic flower strewn folk song Joni Mitchell albums I had listened to previously. Mingus is not really my cup of tea but there are some sublime moments from Joni Mitchell to make it just about worth your while if you are a fan. The album is much more jazzy and easy listening than the early Joni Mitchell records and far more experimental. There are songs here (billed as "raps") that are not songs at all but consist of snatches of Mingus having conversations or speaking in the studio and I can't say I personally found them that interesting or entertaining. I think one's appreciation for this album would obviously be heightened by a warm fondness for jazz and perhaps some knowledge of Charles Mingus. I was equipped with neither going into this album so I found it a strange and unsatisfying experience at times, pluckily venturing forth to the end and sifting for the gold that it might contain. The opening "song" Happy Birthday is less than a minute long and consists of the Mingmeister leading a slightly sozzled sounding rendition of Happy Birthday before becoming embroiled in a good natured debate with Joni Mitchell about how old he is. Is he 53 or 54? I don't know and neither does he. Things improve though with God Must Be A Boogie Man. This begins like an acoustic lullaby and Joni Mitchell's voice is very rich and dreamy although deeper than on the first batch of records. The years have obviously taken their toll but not necessarily in a bad way. Some nice lines in this song too. "He is three, one's in the middle unmoved." If you have ended up at this album for Joni Mitchell rather than Charles Mingus then you should enjoy God Must Be A Boogie Man quite a lot. Funeral is only a minute long and is another "rap" rather than a song again. Charles Mingus is in the studio and discusses his funeral and where he wants to be buried while a cacophony of trumpets and stray notes of a piano are heard in the background as musicians tinker away, stopping, starting, practicing. Again, I found this fairly pointless myself, not knowing who Charles Mingus is or being a fan. Thankfully, there are a couple of lovely Joni Mitchell vocals back to back now as compensation for your time. A Chair In The Sky is a very laid back, ambling floaty ballad and the jazz themed backdrop is much more restrained and dreamlike so that Joni Mitchell's voice is very much to the fore. She deploys a falsetto here that is very charming and a reminder that she can still hit those rare notes when she wants. Her phrasing and sense of when to hold a note and when to let go feels very instinctive and assured and is very effective. A Chair In The Sky is very pleasant and the simplicity of the song is perhaps its greatest strength. The Wolf That Lives In Lindsey is in much the same vein and Joni Mitchell sounds more hippy and folksy here, not a million miles away from the Joni Mitchell of the early records. The only difference really is that the acoustic guitars are deliberately overplucked and twangy. It is very atmospheric at times but it does tread a fine line between being atmospheric and somewhat irritating. This is probably the most immediately accessible song on the album though and very good. It's a kitchen sink epic and stay tuned for some howling wolves in the background. I's A Muggin' is not a song but an interlude and another one of the pesky "raps" that lace Mingus. This is a sort of scat duet between Charles Mingus and Joni Mitchell. Pointless really and not something I'm ever going to listen to again. Sweet Sucka Dance is very jazzy with piano trails and a lot of beeping and plucking in the background. Joni Mitchell's vocal is very good again though and thankfully the thing you tend to focus on. This is a languid song and more of a ballad than anything. It does go on for eight minutes though so you might get a bit bored in the end. Mingus is an album that is very loose and rough around the edges. Not in the singing and production but more in the selection of what to leave out (or in) on the album and how long or short the songs should be. I would have canned the speaking interludes myself but then maybe I'm missing the point. Fans of Charles Mingus might have found them delightful and puckish for all I know. Droll spoofs aimed more at the heart than the head. Speaking of interludes, you get another one next with the ten second Coin In The Pocket. Charles Mingus talks about his life and how everything he has touched has to turned to gold or something. Once again I found myself slightly confused about what the point of these was supposed to be. Maybe one as an intro would be a nice touch but I don't think we needed several of them. The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines is like a sort of kooky jazz pop song that would be annoying if anyone else was singing it but somehow works with Joni Mitchell. Her vocal contortions and the speed with which she sings here is very impressive here and the song is certainly likeable and catchy with nonsensical Dr Seuss style lyrics. "I talked to a cat from Des Moines, He said he ran a cleaning plant, That cat was clanking with coin, Well, he must have had a genie in a lamp, 'Cause every time--I dropped a dime--I blew it, He kept ringing bells, Nothing to it!" Que? Lucky is another interlude, this time about five seconds long (they seem to get ever shorter as the album progresses), and just has a snatch of Mingus saying he is lucky and blessed. At the time he had just won a large amount of money at the bingo so was very happy and content in the studio. That was just a joke. Finally there is Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, which I believe is a famous jazz staple that Joni Mitchell put some words over. I though the saxophone could have piped down a bit at times (like listening to the soundtrack of an eighties made for television film about a private detective) but the piano is lovely and Joni Mitchell's vocal is full of velvet and honey and highly impressive. Mingus as not an album that I could ever really get into or enjoy like Clouds or Blue and I did struggle at times with the music and frequent spoken interludes. There were however a handful of Joni Mitchell vocals that were a delight. I can't see myself returning to this much but it is just about worth a listen if you are a fan of Joni Mitchell. Just don't expect it to be anything like the early albums.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Happy Birthday
2 God Must Be A Boogie Man
4 A Chair In The Sky
5 The Wolf That Lives In Lindsey
6 I's A Muggin'
7 Sweet Sucker Dance
8 Coin In The Pocket
9 The Dry Cleaners From Des Moines
11 Goodbye Pork Pie Hat