Fandom demands a backstory - how else do you explain Baby Yoda, for chissakes? Archives, on the other hand, offers a backstory worth telling: the five years before Joni Mitchell released her 1968 debut, Song to a Seagull.
Chronologically arranged, this five-CD set starts in 1963 when 19-year-old Joni Anderson - with her acoustic guitar and clear, piercing voice - records a set of folk standards at a Saskatoon radio station, then follows her a year later to the Half Beat coffeehouse in Yorkville, where she remains in earnest folksinger mode. It's astounding to consider this young woman would make The Hissing of Summer Lawns just 11 years later.
Mitchell the songwriter arrives on Disc 2, which starts with a three-song tape recorded for her mother's 53rd birthday. "I've written a couple new songs ... and I think you'll like this one especially, mom," Mitchell says of Urge for Going - and suddenly her creative voice emerges and sustains throughout this collection, comprised of home, demo and live recordings (much of it previously bootlegged but rarely in this fidelity). The set offers more than 20 Mitchell originals she has never formally released until now; other songs would appear on her first four records.
Archives culminates in a complete 1967 performance, Live at Canterbury House, the jewel in this box. More confident than ever, with a clutch of songs that would become classics, Mitchell opens the second of three sets with Little Green, a song about giving up a daughter for adoption two years prior. Her performance is riveting, as she bares this most painful and personal secret before an audience oblivious to the song's meaning. Yet there are also many moments of sweetness and humour, especially in the song introductions, and an entertaining contemporary interview by Cameron Crowe in the accompanying booklet.
For Joni, there'll be new dreams, maybe better dreams post-'67, but these early recordings nevertheless represent an essential chapter in her remarkable canon.
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Added to Library on December 9, 2020. ( 532)
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