Folk Music, by Definition
Granted, Mitchell herself has been known to note that her music is less topical and political than it is simply a presentation of the human experience. But, the way her stories unfold - tackling the issues facing farmers and poor people across America, the male-female dynamic, etc. - it's nearly impossible to not consider these as topical statements about some kind of social condition.
For example, that opening track again. "Young Man in America" (purchase/download) - the song - begins with a portrayal of birth which is honest, yes, but also more information than you'd share in mixed company. The portrayal of birth as an event where "My mother gave a mighty shot / opened her legs and let me out... I come out like a cannon ball..." is likely to give sensitive listeners pause. And yet, the story itself is so universal, it's hard to argue with the imagery.
In addition to the title track, an early highlight is "Dyin' Day" (purchase/download) - a testament to the day-to-day reality of a floundering economy, paired with a certain American pride and work ethic ("every day a dying day").
Less topical is the subtly clever "Tailor" (purchase/download) - a love song of sorts which toys with various cliched images, successfully turning them into the rather sincere musings of a woman wronged. Less than a blushing tale of puppy love, this one is a much more ruminative and nearly self-deprecating (albeit realistic), complete picture of how it feels to be at first in the throes of newfound love and then at its inconsiderate mercy.
But, if there's a song which runs away with the whole album, it's "Shepherd" (purchase/download). There's a definite biblical tone to the imagery (the shepherd, the hay, the barn). Yet, it becomes clear very quickly this isn't a bible verse; this is a very modern American story about rural people. Again with that pride and work ethic theme, the heartbreak and loss. If not for the happy love songs, this album - much like life in America - would almost be too much to bear. Instead, it turns out to be an intensely emotional, beautiful window on humanity's many realities.