In the '60s and '70s, Joni Mitchell was widely seen as the archetypal female singer/songwriter, the original Lady from the Canyon who sang passionate but laid-back songs full of organic wisdom about love and life. Of course, that image was never an accurate portrait of the sort of artist Mitchell was -- emotionally she was never hesitant to cut deep, even on languid acoustic numbers, and her skills as a lyricist, vocalist, and guitarist were estimable. One might imagine that the ambitious, marvelously crafted jazz-pop of 1974's Court and Spark was an effort by Mitchell to prove she was more than just a moody girl with a guitar, and much of her subsequent music of the '70s and '80s was not just an expression of her eclectic muse, but an ongoing project to show off the range and intelligence of her musical impulses. Mitchell has long been overdue for a career-spanning box set, and she's finally delivered one with Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced, a four-disc 53-song collection compiled, annotated, and designed by Mitchell with the stated intent of dealing with love and human interaction in its many forms. At the same time, Love Has Many Faces is a writ-large summary of Mitchell's recorded legacy that finds her offering an idiosyncratic view of her career. A number of Mitchell's most popular songs from her early days, including "Big Yellow Taxi," "The Circle Game," "Chelsea Morning," "Cactus Tree," and "Woodstock," are missing from the program, with Mitchell putting a greater emphasis on material from largely overlooked albums like Wild Things Run Fast, Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm, and Night Ride Home. (The fact Mitchell wants us to recall "Dancin' Clown," an embarrassing duet with Billy Idol, is little short of astonishing.) Mitchell also presents several major selections in the orchestral re-recordings she created for the album Travelogue, and as she did on themed compilations such as Dreamland and Songs of a Prairie Girl, Mitchell has remixed a few of the tracks on this set. As a consequence, while most box sets are intended to summarize the career of an artist, Love Has Many Faces instead presents Joni's own preferred perspective on her music, where the jazzier and more stylistically ambitious creations take center stage and Joni the Folkie barely exists. Some fans might find this set's point of view to be a bit curious, especially since it favors less popular (and often less acclaimed) material over Mitchell's more celebrated compositions, but in this context, many of these songs play significantly better than they did on her uneven projects of the '80s and '90s, and the lyrical strength and bold musical vision that inform this music are genuinely remarkable on nearly every tune. For many fans, Love Has Many Faces may not be the Joni Mitchell box set they want, but as a summation of her own musical world-view, it's a powerful and revealing accomplishment.
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