A Harmonious Interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s Songbook Coming to Cohoes Music Hall
Written by Team on March 4, 2023
Interview with Belle-Skinner and Zan for A Night of Joni Mitchell
By: Niki Kaos
Joni Mitchell’s legacy as a singer-songwriter is one that has inspired many musicians over the years. Her depth of emotion and musicianship shines through lyric storytelling, a mastery of rich chord progressions and soundscapes. With the ease of a natural born artist, Joni draws listeners into many worlds.
On March 11th at 8pm Cohoes Music Hall will host a supergroup of some of the Capital Region’s best songwriters to celebrate Joni’s contributions to the music world. Collaborating on their favorite songs, the song selections are born from an organically evolving seed of an idea, growing into a unique collaboration. Before they come together on stage for this special show, I learn more about what is in store.
RRX: Girl Blue, The Hold on Honeys, Zan & The Winter Folk, and Belle-Skinner – all coming together for a Joni Mitchell tribute!! This is amazing! Who got this idea rolling, and how did you all link up?
Zan: The musicians that we chose, we wanted to keep it not too many performers, but also keep it ones who were inspired by Joni. It’s hard to find musicians who aren’t inspired by Joni.
We at least knew of these four groups that this would be a meaningful show for them to play. Very quickly received yeses from Girl Blue and Hold On Honeys, and that’s sort of how this originated.
RRX: Hold On Honeys are an up and coming act. They have those sweet harmonies. With Joni’s complex arrangements, I’m excited to hear what they are going to do. But also, for all the acts, I have some favorite songs I’d love to hear. Can you tease some songs the audience will get that night?
Belle-Skinner: I think we can safely say that we have a healthy combination of the favorites you’ll be satisfied having heard, and more of the off-the-beaten-path kind of songs. I’m very pleased about that.
We didn’t force anyone to do that. Everyone kind of chose it of their own free will. We asked everyone to make a list of their top six songs, and then we’ll arrange based on overlap. But there was hardly any overlap.
RRX: Really? That’s amazing!
Okay, I’m going to put you on the spot. Which of your Joni songs are you most looking forward to performing?
Belle-Skinner: I’m looking forward to playing all the songs. But the song I didn’t expect to shine the brightest for me, is my favorite one I recorded for the album I did. (Belle-Skinner Sings Joni Mitchell Live) I knew about this song before, but having to record it, I fell in love with it all the more. “Little Green”.
RRX: I love that song – I find the lyrics so deep. I’ll have to check out your recorded version. I’d love to hear it.
Okay, same question for you, Zan.
Zan: For me, the song I’m most excited to perform is “Free Man In Paris” because we’re going to have a bunch of special guests on that song, which is all I can really say.
One of my favorite things about researching for this was discovering some of the live recordings, and there’s this live recording of “Free Man In Paris”, specifically, that has a lot of incredible musicians on it.
I think it was recorded maybe 20 years after the song had been out, and it has a bit of a different sound. She’s a different person. She’s a different musician at that point, and I think we’re going to reflect that version a little more. So that’s what I’m excited about. Putting our own spin on the songs.
RRX: It sounds like the artists you lined up are going to represent Joni at the different phases of her songwriting. When you think of Joni, I think of her starting as a soprano. And then I think of her voice decades later, and she has this rich, jazz voice where I think her range shifted.
Zan: I will say that we are hitting a range of eras and albums, but we did not really have each performer play a specific album. It was which songs speak to you as a musician.
Belle-Skinner: What Zan said about later recordings is funny, because the song I referred to “Little Green”, I was listening to an earlier recording. So, something that she was performing before she actually recorded it. I thought that was really interesting, because her style was super different.
At first, Joni Mitchell didn’t sing like the way that she did in her early period. In the beginning she was more belting, like a Jefferson Airplane style singer. And I saw this version of her singing “Little Green”. And she also named her daughter in the song. And the melody’s different. So, it’s kind of an interesting book end, where I connected to my song through an earlier recording. And Zan connected to her song through a later recording.
RRX: That is interesting! Let me ask you, the version of “Little Green” you listened to is more of a belting version? That’s surprising to hear.
Belle-Skinner: Yes, well, Joni Mitchell is an alto, actually. Her whole life she’s been an alto. And also tall people tend to have deeper voices. But, it’s true! She had more like a falsetto, so she had this huge range.
Belle-Skinner: So, it’s not like her voice got deeper. If you listen to Songs To A Seagull, that’s her first record, and when I heard that record, her voice is really deep. So, I was like woah! She’s not a soprano. She has this interesting trajectory where she’s not just high or low. She’s discovering different modes of singing from the beginning.
RRX: I had this perception that her voice grew into this range, but you have been inspired by her deeper singing from early on. I wonder if she changed her singing style to be more popular? Why do you think she made those choices?
Belle-Skinner: I think she’s always been a maverick. I think before… she was singing like everyone else was singing. Then she found her distinctive sound.
RRX: That’s a brilliant way to sum it up. She seems to have an instinct that leads her forward as a musical pioneer.
What else should we know about the show?
Belle-Skinner: We’re going to be singing together on stage…
RRX: Like EVERYBODY? Or…
Belle-Skinner: Everybody. More than once.
RRX: That sounds like an amazing powerhouse show.
Zan: And… we’re almost sold out of tickets.
RRX: I’ve confirmed this is true by searching myself on the Cohoes Music Hall ticket link! The good news – there are still some seats left. The venue is one of my favorites, so it is a great place for this show!
Be one of the lucky few who grabs those last tickets and catch this one-of-a-kind homage! A Night of Joni Mitchell w/ Zan & The Winter Folk, Girl Blue, Hold on Honeys and Belle-Skinner — The Historic Cohoes Music Hall (thecohoesmusichall.org)