Night Ride Home

Joni Mitchell

1991: Geffen GEFD-24302

  1. Night Ride Home
  2. Passion Play (When All the Slaves Are Free)
  3. Cherokee Louise
  4. The Windfall (Everything for Nothing)
  5. Slouching Towards Bethlehem
  6. Come In from the Cold
  7. Nothing Can Be Done
  8. The Only Joy in Town
  9. Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac
  10. Two Grey Rooms

This is an album that “took a little time to get next to me” (to quote Paul Simon) but was well worth the wait in the end. I don’t love it evenly, as it’s not a particularly even ride, but after years of not quite feeling like it was going to stay in my CD collection it now gives me a kind of almost-quiet satisfaction.

Now only “Cherokee Louise,” “Come In From the Cold,” and “Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac” remain distant for me—the latter two are practically the same song, so no wonder, and “Cherokee Louise” just isn’t a happy subject matter, after all, and thus like her “Ethiopia” on Wild Things Run Fast it simply doesn’t encourage frequent listening even if it’s a good composition.

Aside from those three tracks, only the title track is notably weak here (and even it works, given time). None of these songs is particularly big or flashy, at least as performed here (“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” got a mighty restatement on Joni’s Travelogue that underlined the song’s strength independently of this first version), but each yields ample benefits upon unhurried contemplation. “Two Grey Rooms” is especially touching and provocative; “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is amazingly understated (again, the version on Travelogue enhances its might); “The Only Joy In Town” and “The Windfall” start off with similar themes but split into Pro and Con scenarios of the dangers and delights of falling for young men, each song succeeding beautifully as a storytelling exercise.

I guess that just leaves “Passion Play” and “Come In From the Cold” to assess…unfortunately I don’t feel particularly strongly about either of them so I’ll have to chalk them up to “and featuring” status here. If anyone reading this has a deeper and/or stronger feeling about them, I’d certainly be pleased to know of it and have a reason to reappraise these two.

“Two Grey Rooms” really is the payoff here, for me. I didn’t notice it at first, as it came at the end of a bunch of songs that didn’t grab me, but time passed and I found my way to it…and I became profoundly fond of it. My appreciation for this song grew significantly after I read an assessment of its storyline by Joni in which she indicated that it was based on a true story of some rich German guy who really did “disappear” and live where he could watch a former lover pass daily. The song has a sadly affectionate dignity to it which I now cherish.

I do quite like “Only Joy in Town,” and I try to play it on the 21st of every March. It belatedly occurs to me that it makes an interesting pair with “Two Grey Rooms,” as the sex of the singer’s character isn’t explicit in either case (and is unstated in the latter) and both characters are more or less old (that of “Only Joy in Town” suggests it by saying “In my youth, I would have followed him,” whereas the age in “Two Grey Rooms” is indicated merely by the statement that “I loved you 30 years ago”).

All in all, a very nice album…not dazzling, not boring, but a little hard to get into.