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Indigo Girls: Five Essential Joni Mitchell Songs

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls (photo courtesy of Propeller Publicity, PR)

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls (photo courtesy of Propeller Publicity, PR)


Ask Indigo Girls' Emily Saliers about the songwriters who mean the most to her, and Joni Mitchell would soar to the very top of that list.

Saliers, who released her debut solo album in 2017, called Murmuration Nation, has long carried Mitchell's torch in Indigo Girls over the 30 years that Saliers and Amy Ray have made music together: a folk-rock juggernaut of inspiration themselves. She did cover Mitchell's "River" on the duo's 1995 live album, 1200 Curfews, but it's the intricate craft of Mitchell's songwriting, and her activist spirit, that fascinates Saliers: a template of perfection, power, and humanity. In turn, Indigo Girls have done the same over their long career, galvanizing a generation of fellow folk-rock musicians to embrace their truth and pride.

Indigo Girls have a new live album, Indigo Girls - Live with the University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra, which followed the pair's 50 performances with symphony orchestras across the States, culminating in a recorded concert in Boulder, Colorado. They've also been tapped by Brandi Carlile to join her first "Girls Just Wanna Weekend" festival in Mexico, slated for late January 2019, along with Margo Price, Patty Griffin, Lucius, Ruby Amanfu, KT Tunstall, and more. And in addition to Saliers' solo venture, Ray has a new album herself, called Holler.

While Indigo Girls' autumn 2018 tour through the States didn't feature a 64-piece orchestra tagging along, it did give FUV the chance to catch up to Saliers during her downtime to ask about her "Five Essential Joni Mitchell Songs" for FUV Essentials:

Emily Saliers: Five Essential Joni Mitchell Songs:

First of all, picking five essentials from Joni Mitchell is torture because everything she wrote and recorded is essential. In my opinion, she is the greatest songwriter of all time.

“Hejira,” Hejira (1976)
Title track from this brilliant, minimalist album. This is the song that drove home her exquisite musicality and lyrical genius for me. First of all, there is no chorus, just a string of verses that take us on a journey (hejira) or pilgrimage through love and loss and reckoning with mortality. Jaco Pastorius played hypnotic bass, becomes the imagery, and Joni’s open tuning, droning and transcendent, is the perfect vehicle for her ruminations. I became absolutely immersed in this song when I first heard it and held it as the pinnacle of lyric writing.

“California,” Blue (1971)
This song gives us Joni’s sense of humor (“I’ll even kiss a sunset pig”) and cheerfully mixes the personal with the political. No one mixes the personal with the political like Joni Mitchell. This song is chock full of interesting characters and thoughts on world peace but ultimately, it’s about being homesick for the California that she loves— a real romp and the lighter-hearted Joni singing to us.

“The Jungle Line,” The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975)
This song has Joni incorporating the Drummers of Burundi; the song comes to life as the paintings of Rousseau. It throbs with passion; the rhythm becomes paint on canvas. This song shows Joni’s singular genius for the synesthesia experience in song.

“Woman of Heart and Mind,” For the Roses (1972)
This song just tells it like it is for Joni Mitchell—who she is and what she wants from life and relationship. I first heard this in high school and was struck by the strength of her self-knowledge and honesty. The guitar tuning is also amazing and moving. I bought the song book and poured over this song until I had memorized it completely and taken it on as my own.

“Amelia,” Hejira (1976)
So many quotable lines in this song! It’s a song full of wanderlust, dreams, and emptiness. The imagery is visceral and the metaphors astounding. Joni is the queen of the deeply satisfying “no chorus” song.

- Emily Saliers
November 2018

Read all of FUV's Five Essential Albums and Songs here.