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Joni: live and canned Print-ready version

by Nat Freedland
Los Angeles Free Press
June 21, 1968
Original article: PDF

Joni Mitchell is already up there on the Leonard Cohen plateau as a song-poet working the utmost limits of art-rock possibilities. It's Jone [sic] the performer that is the revelation. And it's a revelation because her first album on Warner's is such a nothing.

What ex-Byrd David Crosby, who produced the sessions, allowed Joni to do in the studio is exactly the same thing she does on a nightclub floor, except somehow the sound comes out like it was recorded through a microphone surrounded by wet kleenex. No presence whatsoever. It's doubtful whether even Joan Baez would try an LP these days with just her own voice and guitar, with the kind of arrangements around today it's a pointless thing to do and the Joni album doesn't bring it off anyway.

She sings mostly in the high range and her voice doesn't have the glasslike quality of Baez. It's more the breathless innocence of a young choir girl who has just gotten laid and isn't quite sure what she's supposed to do next. Only when you see her doing the thing live does it become apparent how badly Crosby (or whoever) screwed up at the dials.

Enter Joni at the Troubadour with a paisley floor-length witch shawl or better yet a velveteen mini that gets it out there with all but the last few inches of excellent Canada farm-bred leg. She has long straight blonde bangs and a facial bone structure that looks like a skull sculptured in roses. Her guitar accompaniment is so good, you don't wish there were other instruments present. The songs are lovely with that deflowered choirgirl sadness and pluck, and for some asinine reason most of the material did not get onto the Crosby produced record. The girl is an entertainer without losing her hip, she cares about getting across to her audience and does little stories and introductions for the work, rather than just standing there and tuning. Her voice is comparable to Baez and Collins in quality, except she isn't using enough of it yet.

There's a lot more fullness, especially in the lower contralto range, that only comes out in momentary sections and could really make her the champ if she harnesses it more. Anyway the act is one of eerie beauty throughout and Joni Mitchell comes across as one of the real beauty people. I'm not much on numerology but it seems noteworthy that the three finest female post-folk soloists have four-letter names beginning with J...Joan, Judy, Joni. If you were doing a mysticism trip it might seem a good bet to await a fourth four-letter named girl songbird with gifts to combine the achievement of all the previous three. Or doesn't it work that way?

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