All sides now for Joni Mitchell tribute band

Cohen Talmor came across Mitchell’s work quite a few year earlier and was hooked from the get go.

Black Crow: We do stuff from almost all the various stages of Joni's career. (photo credit: HADAS HAMAROV)
Black Crow: We do stuff from almost all the various stages of Joni's career.
(photo credit: HADAS HAMAROV)
Tribute shows can be something of a double-edged sword. On one hand you’ve got solid, popular base material to work with which normally draws the crowds. On the other hand, the paying customers generally have a good working knowledge of the source sounds. Ergo, if the band is going to stray from the original score, it had better make sure the end result is not only of commensurate entertainment quality, but that it doesn’t ruffle the feathers of diehard adherents to the core either.
Moran Cohen Talmor was well aware of the pitfalls of taking on repertoire created by Joni Mitchell, regarded by many to be one of the preeminent singer-songwriters of all time. Cohen Talmor will front the “Black Crow” show scheduled for next Wednesday (doors open 8 p.m., show starts 9 p.m.) at Kibbutz Ein Shemer, with a second gig lined up at Noctorno in Jerusalem on September 8 (doors open 9 p.m., show starts 10 p.m.).
“After the second or third rehearsal with the band I had a panic attack,” she laughs. “Pretty big shoes [to fill], huh? I thought, ‘what am I doing?’. Everyone’s going to make comparisons with Joni. I thought, I’m not Joni Mitchell, and the show’s got no chance of going well.”
Then again, “Black Crow” is not your ordinary derby doffing venture.
“The music is so much fun, and the musicians in the band are so wonderful. This is not a cover show,” stresses Cohen Talmor. “You will hear a very different arrangement of almost every song we do. Each of us, in the band, brings themselves to this production.”
That’s what happens when you have artists of the caliber of veteran multidisciplinary bassist Yankeleh Segal, and seasoned drummer Shahar Haziza on board your magical mystery tour. Segal also serves as musical producer of the show and, as the doyen of the troupe, has the most onstage experience, and is the most steeped in Mitchell’s oeuvre. Udi Simhon on guitar and keyboardist Ido Selzenik complete the instrumental cast.
While the creative side of the project seems to have run pretty smoothly, during the course of the show’s 18-month gestation period, there was a little difference of opinion when it came to deciding on a title for the project. Indeed, “Black Crow” is not exactly the best known of the Canadian singer-songwriter’s vast body of work. It hails from Hejira, Mitchell’s 1976 record, which was something of a harbinger for her growing interest in jazz. Cohen Talmor was all for a song title more readily associated with Mitchell.
“I wanted to call the show ‘Blue,’” says the 40-year-old vocalist, referencing Mitchell’s best-known album, which came out in 1971. “But Yankeleh preferred ‘Black Crow.’” That may be something of a dome scratcher for many, but it may also help to introduce the public at large to some of Mitchell’s lesser-known material. 
The show takes a well-rounded approach to Mitchell’s broad repertoire, and will include such tried-and-beloved nuggets as the emblematic number “Both Sides Now” – which is better known as a hit for Mitchell’s compatriot folkie Judy Collins – “Help Me,” off commercially successful 1974 release Court and Spark – and the anthemic “Woodstock.” Mitchell wrote the latter number as a salute to the landmark 1969 pop and rock festival, an event she missed herself. She was asked to perform there, but her misguided agent felt that his client could get more marketing value out of an appearance on the Dick Cavett talk show. 
Her “Woodstock” has been covered by dozens of acts over the years, including, most notably, Crosby Still Nash & Young – who, despite being pretty unknown at the time, did perform at the festival and never looked back – and British country rock act Matthews Southern Comfort. The two renditions are very different from each other, and Cohen Talmor et al also exercise some poetic license in their own version.
“We do a very innovative and subversive arrangement of “Woodstock,” she explains. “There are rock elements to the way we do it and a sort of an Israeli aspect to it, along the lines of the Beri Sakharoff style. “Woodstock” is a timeless gem.” Can’t argue with that.
The “Black Crow” venture was designed to be as expansive as possible from the outset.
“We do stuff from almost all the various stages of Joni’s career,” says Cohen Talmor. “You can’t do the whole Joni Mitchell repertoire, it’s just so enormous, but we get into the whole of her acoustic period. We do a couple of totally acoustic numbers, but the show is mostly electric.”
While Segal may have run his practiced rule over the song list, Cohen Talmor says the project basically works on equal standing lines.
“We all put something into this, and it is very much a democratic undertaking. We put the numbers together and each of us brings their ideas to the table. Yankeleh is part of all this, and he doesn’t play the dictator. Far from it. But he is the catalyst for all this.”
In fact, the “Black Crow” seed germ began sprouting serendipitously.
“Yankeleh and I did a gig somewhere up North,” Cohen Talmor recalls. “We went there with a very shaky playlist.” Matters were not helped by Segal’s condition.
“Yankeleh had just gotten back to the country after a quick trip to Mexico, for a single show in Mexico City with Idan Reichel. He was totally jet lagged and, at one stage of the gig [up North] he said ‘Let’s do a Joni Mitchell number’. We did “Both Sides Now,” and we both felt like we were on a trip. We felt a really strong connection.”
The singer was so enthralled she wanted to take things further.
“I was really shy about telling him I’d love to get a Joni Mitchell project together,” she says. In the event, she didn’t need to try her luck. “Yankeleh came to me after the gig and told me he had a dream, of doing a Joni Mitchell show,” she laughs. “I really tried to play it cool, but it didn’t work. I said, “Yes! Let’s do it!”
Cohen Talmor came across Mitchell’s work quite a few year earlier and was hooked from the get go.
“I was given a cassette tape of Blue, which was taped off a cassette, off another cassette. I was 15 or 16 at the time. It changed my life completely. Later I got into [1970 release] Ladies of the Canyon, and I explored all kinds of things Joni did. The learning continuum is still in full flow. On this project, too, Yankeleh introduced me to things by Joni that I hadn’t heard before.”
The Israeli singer’s Mitchell pick actually comes from one of the Canadian’s lesser-lauded efforts, 1991 release Night Ride Home.
“The song I love to perform the most is ‘Cherokee Louise,’” Cohen Talmor says. “I don’t connect too strongly with the album, but that song is just incredible. If I had to choose a favorite Joni Mitchell record, it would be Blue or Hejira.”
The “Black Crow” front-runner says the audiences at Ein Shemer and in Jerusalem can look forward to a stylistic roller coaster, performed by a bunch of musicians who know what they’re about.
“Part of our line of thinking was that the people who come to the shows should forget, for a moment, that they are listening to songs written by Joni Mitchell. They will hear a very good band playing music. It’s really taking Joni’s music and running with it, but with lots of respect for the source.”
There will also be improvisational vignettes sewn into the show fabric. Considering that, over the years, jazz became an ever-evolving element of Mitchell’s artistic ethos, that fits the thematic bill.
“There is so much you can do with her songs. There is always something more to discover.”
Sounds like the “Black Crow” gang are really going for it.
For tickets and more information: Ein Shemer – (04) 637-4327 and, Jerusalem – (077) 700-8510 and