In the spring of 2011, my wife and I were standing on a corner in New Orleans admiring some items in a shop window. Then we heard a voice singing. Deep, rich sounds. Memories from my youth flashed through my brain – Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Joan Baez – and I was sure this was a recording. Then we looked toward the source of the sound and saw Christina Friis strumming on her guitar and supercharging the New Orleans air. We forgot about what was in the window and headed over to hear her better.
A few weeks ago, an email showed up in my inbox from some singer. After a few email exchanges, we figured out that we had encountered each other on that New Orleans street corner six years ago, and, yes, I wanted to review her new album.
Danish-born Friis has been traveling back and forth between New Orleans and Denmark for the last few years, singing in churches and performing on street corners (known as busking). Now, back in recording mode, she released a new album in October and has a surprise for her fans coming later this year.
The New Album
Friis’ new album, The Quiet of Knowing: Joni Mitchell Unknown, a tribute album to the iconic folk-songstress of the 1960s, features unreleased songs written from 1965 to 1969. Dave Blackburn produced and arranged and plays guitar on all the songs. Barnaby Finch, who used to play for Lionel Richie, provides keyboard sounds.
When I put on the CD, I was taken back to that New Orleans street corner. Appropriate, I thought, because that’s how Mitchell got her start, busking in the streets of Toronto.
Friis grew up in a musical family and swears she could sing before she could talk. Experience as an exchange student introduced her to English, Spanish, and French. I wondered if she had always been a folk song fan or whether it was a more recent discovery.
She explained, “I’ve always listened to and sung the songs of Joan Baez, my mom’s big idol. Folk music has always come naturally to me.”
I asked Friis about her favorite song on the album.
“My favorite track is ‘Hunter’,” she said. “I like the story of how the protagonist meets a stranger and wants to help, yet has reservations due to the ‘danger’ of not knowing where the stranger ‘has been’. The next day, there’s a feeling of remorse from not knowing whether the stranger was an angel or maybe a devil.
“I think the song speaks of a common dilemma, when approached by a homeless person or stranger. Too often we avoid even looking the person in the eye out of fear of the unknown and unfamiliar, yet we have no clue what kind of story the person actually carries with him or her. The song has food for thought.”
The final song on the album, “The Wizard of Is,” surprised me the most. Mitchell regularly performed it live, but I had never heard it. Almost instantly as it began, I recognized the sounds, the chords, and the tune as being adapted from Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” A little digging revealed that Mitchell and Cohen had been lovers for a short time, and friends for life. The song is about him.
Whether you are a Joni Mitchell fan or not, I recommend that you check out the album preview. You may be a Friis fan and just not know it yet. You can also purchase the album through that site.
Soon, Friis plans on releasing an extended play with four original songs and her first music video. She has been working on this with Grammy award-winning producer Donny Markowitz, writer of the Dirty Dancing anthem “Time of My Life.”
Friis met Markowitz at songwriting sessions in New Orleans in the past, then contacted him a few months before her return to New Orleans last March to see if he would produce the record. She credits him with not only producing but with helping her improve the tunes and arrangements.
To stay up to date on Christina Friis’ new project, you can sign up for emails at her website and follow her on Twitter. The video linked below shows her busking “Hunter” in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The recorded music features Dave Blackburn on guitar and Barnaby Finch on keyboards.