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The Road to Joni Mitchell's Masterpiece

by Victoria Segal
MOJO
July 2021
Original article: PDF

JONI MITCHELL ARCHIVES - VOLUME 1: THE EARLY YEARS (1963-1967)

**** (Rhino, 2020)

This document of Mitchell's earliest career shows her outgrowing coffee-house folk repertoire, stretching out into her own songwriting. Urge for Going (recorded for Blue, the dropped) and Born To Take The Highway prefigure Carey and California's restless wandering, freewheeling through the cold, the cold, the settled in its ways. Also included is a 1967 performance of Little Green, Blue's blessing over the daughter she placed for adoption in 1965. Travelling, travelling, travelling.

SONG TO A SEAGULL

**** (Reprise, 1968)

"I'm the girl in all these songs," said Mitchell, but on her David Crosby-produced debut, she hadn't quite found the transparency that would define Blue. I Had A King was about former husband Chuck Mitchell, Crosby's hand was on The Dawntreader's tiller - but specifics often come veiled in fable, all galleons, castles and mountains. Cactus Tree, however, cuts to the core of an ongoing process: "She's so busy being free."

CLOUDS

**** (Reprise, 1969)

The sun-flooded Chelsea Morning underlines Mitchell's A Case Of You claim that she lives in a "box of paints," but Clouds is bluer than the rainbows, butterscotch and oranges suggest. Songs To Aging Children Come and Roses Blue have a chill at their hearts, while Both Sides, Now - like Chelsea Morning, popularised by other voices - says goodbye to the fairytale, that self-portrait on the cover is a move towards finding exactly where she stands.

LADIES OF THE CANYON

**** (Reprise, 1970)

With piano shouldering guitar out the way on Rainy Night House and Willy, For Free's clarinet coda and Conversation's wild-side fade, Ladies Of The Canyon expands Mitchell's singer-songwriter palette. Closing with counterculture hits Big Yellow Taxi, Woodstock and The Circle Game, it decisively boxed up '60s folk utopia: by Blue's California, peace "was just a dream some of us had" and the Me Generation was in full introspective flight.

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Added to Library on August 2, 2021. (328)

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