Noonan adds colour to Blue

28 May 2023

David Zampatti has been tangled up in Blue for more than 50 years. So, he’s delighted to hear Katie Noonan cover Joni MItchell’s iconic album with such gusto.

Blue, Katie Noonan  
Lyric’s Underground, 27 May 2023 

It has been as constant as the northern star, this amazing album, since I first heard it as a bewildered 18-year-old. Fifty-plus years later I still play Blue, or cover versions of its songs, more than any other. It can never grow old, and I can never tire of it. 

Blue is 10 songs about freedom, travel, lust and longing, love and its losing that Joni Mitchell recorded in 1971 with just her piano, acoustic guitar and dulcimer, accompanied sparingly by Russ Kunkel’s percussion, Stephen Still’s bass and guitar, Sneaky Pete’s pedal steel and (her then lover) James Taylor’s guitar and vocals. 

It’s a legitimate candidate for the greatest album of the rock era and is certainly its most thorough and direct exploration of the heart and soul of the artist.  

So, while I’m a great and trusting admirer of Katie Noonan, I can’t be blamed for approaching her performance of the entire album with some trepidation. There’s no doubting her capacity as a singer and musician to cover the songs, but Blue isn’t just a collection of songs. It’s an expression of a singular personality, and I doubted that another performer could successfully assume it. 

Katie Noonan, accompanied by Ben Hauptmann, performs Joni MItchell’s Blue. Photo courtesy Memo Music Hall

But I was overthinking it. Noonan’s approach to the album is a delight throughout, and occasionally revelatory. 

She makes it perfectly clear why Mitchell can’t get to sleep the night “the wind is in from Africa” in the randy Carey, and bluntly exposes how Taylor filled the “empty space underneath the skin” in the title song. 

Most interesting of all, Noonan gives context to the album’s closer, The Last Time I Saw Richard, which I’d often thought was an uncomfortable fit. Her morose friend’s accusation that Mitchell trades in “pretty lies” finally gets to her; her argument that “love can be so sweet” gives way to the terror of loneliness that Mitchell is running away from through the entire album: I’m gonna blow this damn candle out … All good dreamers pass this way some day/Hiding behind bottles in dark cafés

Noonan’s voice is a touch road-weary, but it’s a gorgeous instrument even under a little duress. The arrangements are even sparer than the album’s, on just her keyboard and Ben Hauptmann’s tasteful, skilful acoustic guitar, while Noonan’s rapport with an attentive and receptive audience is warm and relaxed. 

Support act Jack Carty, Noonan’s friend and fellow Queenslander, delivers a short set of crafty, subdued songs that is deservedly well received. 

Lyric’s Underground in Maylands is the perfect intimate venue for Mitchell’s songs and Noonan’s performance of them, and well worth checking out the next time you’re a little blue.  

Pictured top: Katie Noonan’s voice is a gorgeous instrument, even under duress. Photo courtesy Memo Music Hall

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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