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Joni Mitchell

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    Joni Mitchell

    blue ladies of the canyon song to a seagull clouds

    Song To A Seagull 8 ( 1968 )
    I Had a King / Michael from Mountains / Night in the City / Marcie / Nathan La Franeer / Sisotowbell Lane / The Dawntreader / The Pirate of Penance / Song to a Seagull / Cactus Tree

    The break-up of a marriage to a defiant, independant first LP. David Crosby was listed as the producer, yet his role was more one of guidance. The album doesn't go for the usual folk-rock trappings you might expect, rather we have acoustic guitar plus vocals. Joni is joined for a few of the songs by Stephen Stills on bass. By choosing not to record and include such songs as 'Both Sides Now', 'Chelsea Morning' 'Eastern Rain' 'Urge for Going' or 'The Circle Game' Mitchell could indeed be said to have been going off in an independant direction, all of the aforementioned Mitchell compositions had already been hits or notable covers for other artists. There's two obvious areas of focus on the LP, her lyrics and her music. To a lesser extent, we can also consider her vocals. Her voice is strangely detached emotionally. She showcases a whisper going to a strong tenor in a few simple swoops, showing dexterity. She doesn't seem to be inside the songs rather a story-teller in the folk tradition. The lyrics are perfectly formed and border on poetry and they do this without overcomplicating the language itself. Some of the phrases border on hippie-ideals of the time, the only facet of the album that actually dates it, yet usually these are fascinating lyrics that paint pictures. Her voice plays the part of an actor, light and delicate where it needs to be, intense and furrowed when the mood calls for it. She was already a more than accomplished singer. The music doesn't initially give us much to grab hold of. Her guitar playing is essentially simple, yet she gets some strange, mysterious sounds out of the thing, no doubt as a result of her love of open-tunings. There's an elegant, classical beauty in the guitar lines that decorate and enrich 'Michael From The Mountains', for instance. The subtle melodies, the pauses and the range of her vocals, the pictures painted by the lyrics eventually all combine to produce a beauty that's hard to describe. 'Micheal From The Mountains', as other songs here do, manages to creep up on you. Once you 'get' these songs, you'll wonder how on earth you weren't able to pick out these melodies the first time around.

    'Margie' is a great example of the early Joni Mitchell style. The guitar phrases are subtle and flow like an autumn river gently ebbing just past your range of vision. Depending on which way you look at it, 'Margie' manages to present several melodic phrases to capture your imagination rather than a single, anthemic folk sing-a-long type of melody. 'Dawntreader' is a captivating, fascinating listen lyrically that keeps you coming back for more. The melodies are seemingly an endless repetition of these simple strums and patterns. You want them to be endless, she could do this all day long, picking out the stars from the sky and letting them free once more, it would be nice. 'Cactus Tree' moves in a style more familiar to fans of the next couple of Joni Mitchell LPs. It's an instantly memorable song you can even try and sing-along to, not something the rest of the album really encourages. This is a serious sounding album, sometimes criticized for being too down, yet there's a purity in these songs and a single-minded dedication in the style of performing. I adore 'Cactus Tree' by the way, the way her vocals come in over themselves, the beauty of the vocals and words and the perfectly executed guitar patterns. The album ends with 'Cactus Tree', a moment of light enough to make you journey back to the start to see what you missed first time out, or might just see differently when gazed at again.

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    Clouds 8 ( 1969 )
    Tin Angel / Chelsea Morning / I Don't Know Where I Stand / That Song About the Midway / Roses Blue / The Gallery / I Think I Understand / Songs to Aging Children Come / The Fiddle and the Drum / Both Sides, Now

    'Clouds' is in many ways a fairly typical 'follow-up' album in that it sees Joni rounding up stray compositions, for whatever reason, left off her debut LP. True, those 'stray' compositions include such memorable songs as 'Chelsea Morning', 'I Don't Know Where I Stand' and 'Both Sides Now' in particular but such songs were written two years previously. What we see therefore is less a step forwards for Joni and rather a glimpse at something else she could do. She still impresses with her voice and acoustic playing, yet 'Clouds' is more of a crowd pleasing LP melodically, containing several songs already covered by others alongside concert crowd-pleasers. The pure acoustic plus voice nature of 'Clouds' can occasionally seem limiting yet this LP is easier to get into and assmilate than her debut LP. It routinely gets hailed as her first step towards the classic 'Blue' and her debut often gets ignored. True, 'Clouds' makes far more 'sense' as an introduction to her works than 'Song To A Seagull' yet I get the impression there is often a little revisionism from the critics going on. 'Songs To Aging Children Come' and 'The Fiddle And The Drum' I must say are songs to forget. The entirely vocal 'The Fiddle And The Drum' is something of a dirge and 'Songs To Ageing Children Come' is entirely missable. Thank heavens then for 'Both Sides Now' closing things off for 'Clouds' in such a pleasing fashion, still one of her best known songs.

    Outside of the best known songs 'Clouds' contains ( 'I Don't Know Where I Stand', memorably covered by Fairport Convention and the eternal joy of 'Chelsea Morning' ) we get such solidly written material as 'Roses Blue', really fascinating structually and the guitar playing is impeccably done. The seemingly reflective 'I Think I Understand' is Joni finding her voice and finding it well. Switching to the album opener we get something dark and unnerving, quite unlike the majority of the rest of the LP. 'Tin Angel' for me is all the better for being shrouded in darkness. Indeed, her vocals take on deeper hues, she paints pictures with her lyrics and her voice is very powerful in such an incarnation. Can I sum up then? Er, not really. 'Clouds' is no kind of concept LP, it's merely a showcase of unrelated songs in acoustic and voice fashion. She still uses some fascinating open-tunings to get unusual guitar sounds and patterns, quite cleverly. Her writing is certainly upto par, especially lyrically. 'Clouds' is a good release for her, placed her firmly on the map and on the road to brighter things. Transistional then? Well, yes, probably transistional. She confused us a little by having songs on her debut that were actually no older than the songs here.

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    Ladies Of The Canyon 9 ( 1970 )
    Morning Morgantown / For Free / Conversation / Ladies Of The Canyon / Willy / The Arrangement / Rainy Night House / The Priest / Blue Boy / Big Yellow Taxi / Woodstock / The Circle Game

    Joni takes us back to a late Sixties vibe, sunshine merging into autumn, late nights in the great outdoors spent socialising. She also fits in more oblique settings and 'Ladies Of The Canyon', her third LP, was also her best at this point in her career. She continues to use odd voicings and tunings to lend her material a distinctive feel. She gets in plenty of lyrical, vocal and musical hooks as the songs form a cohesive whole yet also display variety. It could be argued that this is her first complete LP and also her first masterpiece. It hints both backwards and forwards and is likely to be the best place to start for anyone not familiar with Joni. She uses a lot more piano here than she previously did and she proves herself a somewhat sparse piano player, melodies to the fore rather than any kind of showing off, yet her piano lines have been so beautifully recorded. On a song such as 'For Free', we have just the two elements, vocals and piano. Her vocals are up front, they sit in front of you. The piano is in the background yet sounds like it's literally right behind you, in the same room. She plays these lovely flowing phrases and the lyrics on 'For Free' are some of her best. It's a fine, hypnotic song, utterly gorgeous and one of her finest to this day. 'Conversation' and 'Morning Morgantown' both reveal some kind of contentment flowing through Joni emotionally. She sounds happy and indeed, her relationship with Graham Nash was fully in bloom by now, so perhaps that's not so unusual. 'The Arrangement' stands out - she uses jazzy phrases, mellow melody lines whilst vocally she sings fairly unusually. Her voice is sparkling throughout the entire album, incidentally. Her voice is still that of a young woman yet points towards future maturity, she can do both equally as well here.

    Three of the most enduring Mitchell compositions of all feature on 'Ladies Of The Canyon', the sing-song 'Circle Game' which almost has a nursery rhyme feel. 'Big Yellow Taxi' sees her in idealistic protest singer/songwriter mode, yet she's not preaching to you, just telling tales and stories and thoughts. Perhaps most impressively of all, she gives us 'Woodstock', which is one of her most covered songs. I'm familiar with Ian Matthews ( ex-fairport convention ) and his Matthews Southern Comfort, which although wasn't a hit in the US, was a chart topped in the UK. Joni's version doesn't accentuate the commercial lyrics or the idealism, she sings the song in a serious manner and stresses certain lyrics. Lyrics as poetry by the way, even with the hippie trappings surrounding them. All in all, it's clear 'Ladies Of The Canyon' is a serious work, yet the fun elements and the happy elements balance out the serious side. 'The Circle Game' leaves you smiling and this is just a beautifully rounded work of art.

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    Readers Comments

    Andrew L Faversham
    Great to see your looking at Joni. For me, she is the most influential and finest female singer song writer of our time; the girls all want to be Joni!Your reviews are intelligent,as ever; though I disagree with some of your opinions on her songs.I hope you review "Blue" "Hejira" and "Turbulent Indigo". I love "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" and 2000s "Both Sides Now." Thank you very much for fantastic site Adrian

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    Blue 10 ( 1971 )
    All I Want / My Old Man / Little Green / Carey / Blue / California / This Flight Tonight / River / A Case of You / The Last Time I Saw Richard

    Going away travelling and at some point you want to go home again. The grass isn't greener, you want your comforts and discover your problems haven't stayed at home - you took them around with you without realising. So, Joni makes 'Blue' a confessional with picture postcards arriving from the past and present and future dreams are painted. Writing this album whilst touring Europe in 1970 certainly was responsible for many of the themes here. It's an honest album, the happiness and sadness are genuine emotions dressed up in poetry rather than obscured by it. True, we do have hints of the hippy in Miss Mitchell as well as the genuinely moving and poetic. Her voice portrays everything though and sometimes we can miss her sense of humour, that satirical element, in the blue shades that hang heavy over the ten songs here. The piano led songs particularly point towards Joni inventing the likes of Tori Amos and Kate Bush, so drown out your sorrows with a few black coffees and cigarettes and listen to this. It's an album designed to be paid attention to.

    On a lighter note, she also went some way to inventing Pheobe from 'Friends' - Went to the store, sat on Santa's lap / Asked him to bring my friends all kinds of crap / Said all you need is to write them a song / Now you haven't heard it yet so don't try to sing along / No don't sing along / Monica, Monica, have a happy Hanukkah / Saw Santa Claus, he said hello to Ross / And please tell Joey, Christmas will be snowwwwwy / And Rachel and Chandler, blah blah blah..... handler!

    Joni is joined for 'Blue' by some famous friends, although she's the heart of the record of course, playing guitar, piano and singing. Stephen Stills plays bass and guitar on 'Carey', James Taylor plays guitar on 'California', 'All I Want' and 'A Case Of You'. Sneaky Pete Kleinow adds pedal steel to 'California' and 'This Flight Tonight'. These guest contributions are all very low-key actually and are there purely to serve the songs. I like how the early seventies singer-songwriter scene was very un-selfish like that. The bed's too big, The frying pan's too wide she sings in 'My Old Man' after the misleadingly upbeat guitars of 'All I Want', but whoever told you 'Blue' was all, well... blue... was clearly mistaken. I like those lines though, I like the way she brings in these small details. I also like the way the album often moves from piano led songs to guitar led songs and you almost don't even notice the change - her voice is clearly the key instrument for this 'Blue' album. That upbeat bass really makes 'Carey' shine, doesn't it? Again, mentions of dirt under the fingernails as Joni tells you a story. Maybe i'll go to Amsterdam, maybe i'll go to Rome. The desperation of the title track is mesmerising and the way she's moved you from happiness to melancholy and her voice has sounded genuine in both moods manages to make everything all the more believable.

    Sitting in a park in Paris France / Reading the news and it sure looks bad / They won't give peace a chance / That was just a dream some of us had.

    Oh I am a lonely painter / I live in a box of paints / I'm frightened by the devil / And I'm drawn to those ones that ain't afraid.

    Oh but you are in my blood / You're my holy wine / You're so bitter, bitter and so sweet / Oh, I could drink a case of you darling / Still I'd be on my feet / I would still be on my feet

    Richard got married to a figure skater / And he bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolator / And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on / And all the house lights left up bright / I'm gonna blow this damn candle out / I don't want nobody comin' over to my table / I got nothing to talk to anybody about / All good dreamers pass this way some day / Hidin' behind bottles in dark cafes dark cafes / Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away / Only a phase these dark cafe days.

    The album seems to get better and it goes along and repeated listens are very easy, surprisingly so. 'This Flight Tonight' gets me when the music appears to drop out to sound like an old radio transmitter. It's a song like this that makes you appreciate her guitar lines, deceptively simple lines but they just don't seem to be playing your usual, normal notes and chords. 'River' is dreaming of being somewhere else and although the sadness is here her voice is also appropriately yearning for future dreams and other scenes and life-styles. I wish I had a river I could skate away on. Closing the album with 'The Last Time I Saw Richard' and the line about how all romantics meet the same fate seems utterly appropriate to me. 'Blue' is an album for romantics and 'Blue' is the right title. This isn't being serenaded with a dozen red roses, this is about reality rather than red red wine or a lady in red. Red rag, red bull - boiling over with rage? No, simply blue with all the connotations that word implies. Bright blue skies, barroom blues, the bottom of a glass being merry with your friends until next morning you discover your wife has left you. 'Blue' by Joni Mitchell.

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    Readers Comments

    Dan P Edinburgh
    I agree with your 10... this is a truly beautiful record. In many ways I view my record collection as a sound track to my memories... This album reminds me of the first years of University in Dundee in the mid nineties!! And my first real Love "Edel Cooper"... We were together for 5 years... when we split it broke my heart... I still don't listen to Blue now because of the memories it brings back (best not to think to much about ex-girlfriends that broke your heart when your a married man)... River is my favouite song

    Cyncli Leicester
    Absolutely brilliant. didnt expect that much, but it is a really beautiful emotionally honest album with some killer melodies. river and carey are two of my fave tunes at the mo now.

    Vlada SerbiaI have finally purchased this album around two years ago.The more I listen to it, the better it gets.I must have listen to it for 100 times already.It's simply the most beautifully constructed album of all time.It's flawless and there is a great flow to it.Songs merge into one another, gripping listener's attention from the very beginning never letting it go until the very last notes of this incredible masterpiece. Joni has got rid of the trappings that marred her previous albums which were nevertheless great.Here she avoids overdoing things whether it concerns the lyrical content or arrangements of the song.Everything seems bare and sincere.Anyone could relate to the beautiful and confessional lyrics and the musicianship is astounding with all of Joni's talents demonstrated in their full power.

    GAZZA Edinburgh
    BLUE usually means to be melancholy , with deep introspection or representing feelings of sorrow . Never has an album been so well named , nor full of such beautiful expressions of said emotion ..... And "a case of you" is one of the loveliest songs ever written . 10/10 it is .

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    this page last updated 23/11/08

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