Joni is a rare jewel - an artist so gifted it is almost impossible to do her justice with the written word. She sings, plays and looks like an angel, but her songs tell us what it feels like to be a real woman, although the more one listens the more it becomes clear that this is no ordinary woman, but one of extraordinary sensitivity and intelligence.
I grew up with Joni's music, her incredible voice swooping and soaring around my student digs, and she has remained something of an icon in my mind ever since, an image of feminine perfection, somehow simultaneously transparent and mysterious, vulnerable and strong.
Beginning with SONG TO A SEAGULL in 1968, her first three albums could be regarded as part of a formative stage in which she still hasn't quite found her true voice, but which nevertheless produced many songs of exquisite beauty and insight.
With the release of BLUE in 1971 she enters what Wally Breese calls her phase as "confessional poet", and writes some of her most personal songs in a state of "emotional transparency", including one, A Case of You which I consider to be one of the finest and most moving love songs ever written. Woman Of Heart And Mind and Jericho are two more poetic masterpieces from this period.
COURT AND SPARK (1974) signals her move into a jazzier sound, but the standard of songwriting is undiminished, with Down To You and Car On A Hill my choice as the highlights of this excellent album.
The sound persists with HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS (1975), from which the title track, a masterly evocation of suburban alienation, and The Boho Dance, stand out as music of rare quality.
At this point I lose track of Joni as her journey into jazz continues, culminating in a collaboration with legendary bassman Charlie Mingus in 1979's MINGUS album. By most accounts Joni never again quite reaches the heights attained in the early 1970's, 1994's TURBULENT INDIGO being possibly the best of her recent offerings.
Joni is often compared with other female songwriters, such as Carole King and Laura Nyro. But I don't believe gender should come into the equation. For me she ranks alongside Bob Dylan as a true original, a pathfinder, and an icon of 20th century singer-songwriting.