Saskatoon Star Phoenix
March 26, 1988. p.D1
By Terry Craig of the Star Phoenix
Chalk Marks in a Rainstorm is the most ambitious and complex recording project Joni Michell has undertaken in her 20-year-old career.
Appearing relaxed and affable before a battery of microphones and television cameras at a news conference Friday at the Bessborough Hotel, the 44-year-old singer, songwriter covered a variety of subjects ranging from the new album to growing up in Saskatoon to the influence the Prairies have on her songwriting.
The Saskatoon stop, one of three scheduled across Canada to promote the album, came at Mitchell's request.
"I have great memories from here," she said. Returning to Saskatoon was "a nostalgic experience as soon as I hit town."
Friday's press conference marked a rare return by Mitchell to the city where she grew up, but she said the influences exerted on her during those days still remain with her. She has even considered doing a recording project about the prairies, "like a W.
O. Mitchell trip!"
Discussing the new album, which features an eclectic array of musicians and singers - Billy Idol, Willie Nelson, Benjamin Orr, Peter Gabriel and Wayne Shorter - she described it as "almost like a rock opera" which doesn't have a storyline but casts different voices for some songs.
On the cut, Dancin' Clown, Billy Idol brought a sense of high gun to the recording session, she said. Many of the guest appearances came as a result of hanging around the coffee machine in the studio - that's how former Prince vocalists Wendy & Lisa came to sing on the album.
She requested Billy Idol for Dancin' Clown and Willie Nelson for his duet with her on Cool Water, a song she remembered from her childhood.
"My last album was tedious by comparison," she said of the general feeling that dominated Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm.
Recorded at a number of studios, the album reflects Mitchell's concern about war. One recording session for the anti-war song, The Beat of Black Wings, took place at Peter Gabriel's studio in rural England. It was during the session that U.S. warplanes
departed from a nearby air base to bomb Libyan military targets.
"The air base was within walking distance from the studio and it occurred to me that if there was any retaliation we would be sitting right on the target," she said.
While the album itself is true to the Mitchwll trend of not repeating herself and presenting a vibrant new sound, she expressed a disdain for the market forces that are in place to sell her product.
"Radio is less adventurous," she said. "Disc jockeys have no freedom to play the music of their choice. In the U.S., radio is geared to certain markets and it's difficult to place my music in those markets - it's not quite jazz, folk or rock."
But she is encouraged by the success of performers like Paul Simon, Sting and Gabriel, whose music defies the strict marketing guideline prevalent in radio today to incorporate new sounds and yet receive airplay.
Mitchell was almost self-effacing about the positive reaction to the new album.
"I think people are ready to like me again - it's time for me to be liked again."
She recalled her days as a youngster modelling fur coats and attending sock hops at the Bessborough, attending Aden Bowman Collegiate and going to high school dances.
"I was in Saskatoon from Grade 6 through to the end of high school. I spent my formative years here and was here during the birth of rock 'n' roll - I have great memories."
Mitchell bantered with students from Aden Bowman about some of her former teachers still at the school and how she flouted the school's stringent dress code against female students wearing slacks by alterating a pair of Bermuda shorts. At the end of the
interview, she posed for the students wearing a school beanie and waving a pennant.