Joni Mitchell reached her commercial high point with Court and Spark, a remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz which stands as her best-selling work to date. While as unified and insightful as Blue, the album – a concept record exploring the roles of honesty and trust in relationships, romantic and otherwise – moves away from confessional songwriting into evocative character studies: the hit "Free Man in Paris," written about David Geffen, is a not-so-subtle dig at the machinations of the music industry, while "Raised on Robbery" offers an acutely funny look at the predatory environment of the singles bar scene. Much of Court and Spark is devoted to wary love songs: both the title cut and "Help Me," the record's most successful single, carefully measure the risks of romance, while "People's Parties" and "The Same Situation" are fraught with worry and self-doubt (standing in direct opposition to the music, which is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last).
After the expanded instrumental scale and sonic experimentation of Court & Spark and The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell reverses that flow for the more intimate, interior music on Hejira, which retracts the arranging style to focus on Mitchell's distinctive acoustic guitar and piano, and the brilliant, lyrical bass fantasias of fretless bass innovator Jaco Pastorius. Known for his furious, sometimes rococo figures beneath the music of Weather Report, Pastorius is tamed by Mitchell's cooler, more deliberate ballads: these meditations coax a far gentler, subdued lyricism from Pastorius, whose intricate bass counterpoints Mitchell's coolly elegant singing, especially on the sublime "Amelia," which transforms the mystery of Amelia Earheart into a parable of both feminism and romantic self-discovery. This isn't Mitchell at her most obviously ambitious, yet the depth of feeling, poetic reach, and musical confidence make this among the finest works in a very fine canon.