Christina Friis is from Denmark by way of New Orleans, and her debut album is The Quiet of Knowing: Joni Mitchell Unknown. Friis writes her own songs and has a number of impressive, Nola-based YouTube covers, but this album brings her together with Fallbrook’s Dave Blackburn, the producer and guitarist whose work with wife, Robin Adler, has included remarkable Mitchell tribute albums and shows. Knowing consists of 11 Mitchell songs, written before her first album was released and never recorded by her. Listening to them, one wonders why not–especially as presented by Friis’ voice and framed by the stark, pristine job on the board by Blackburn (the only other backing musician is Barnaby Finch on keys).
Fans of Mitchell will recognize these as unmistakably hers, and Friis’ ability to sing almost exactly like the Canadian immortal did on her early albums makes this disc the next best thing to a long lost companion piece to Songs for a Seagull and Clouds. But that may not give Friis enough credit.
“Come to the Sunshine” opens, beautifully realized with sweeping piano flourishes and swells of sound, and Friis’ cream-sweet voice, bouncing to hit the highs effortlessly. The bones of later Mitchell songs pop up here and there, a musical phrase or vibe that seems eerily familiar; “Day After Day” isn’t nearly as dark-textured as “Blue,” but still produces some of the same goosebumps. “Hunter” is more bluesy than anything that comes to mind in her massive catalog; it’s given an added dose of gumbo by Finch. Friis sings about meeting a desperate stranger, and extending a helping hand, “I brought him bread and a blanket/ But I told him “You can’t come in.”
Friis inhabits the vocal slot of the introspective “I Won’t Cry,” which moves in and out of slow and somber verses to more brisk and affirmative choruses where her voice takes flight and soars. “Favorite Color” sounds like a track left off of Seagull, and “Eastern Rain” is a disc highlight with a guitar/piano hook that anchors a recollection of a haunted, lonely night. It plays out with Friis’ voice and Blackburn’s acoustic guitar weaving a spell around one another.
Much of Mitchell’s material is about her negotiations with lovers, and here “The Way It Is” is a precursor to “I Don’t Know Where I Stand” or “See You Sometime,” or even later songs like “Carey.” Friis digs right in, “I could bring my favorite flower/ Maybe yours would be the same/ Maybe we would argue hours/ Over the fair flower’s name.” The album wraps with “The Wizard of Is,” an interesting song built around the melody of fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” It tells about a magical experience with a special ring and silver jester, with a vibe similar to Cohen’s unforgettable classic.
The Quiet of Knowing: Joni Mitchell Unknown was recorded in less than a day, but sounds just right, and is not only an absolute must for fans of Mitchell, but also a great listen that introduces the surprising talent of Christina Friis.