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The Ultimate Music Guide - Joni Mitchell Print-ready version

Updated Deluxe Edition from the makers of UNCUT

by John Robinson
UNCUT
December 2020
Original article: PDF

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story is a 2019 film by Martin Scorsese about Bob Dylan's 1975-76 tour of small auditoriums that served to confound expectations, no doubt to the delight of its ostensible subject, Bob Dylan. Rather than the kind of faithful music documentary in which the director had previously specialised, the movie became a sporadically amusing shaggy dog story in which Dylan insists he was directed throughout the tour by the mysterious "Van Dorp".

This wry and self-mythologising mood all gets a bit more interesting, though, when Dylan is observed checking out other artists. There's a great scene when Dylan watches Patti Smith and a stripped-down band punch through the curtain from poetry to electrifying rock'n'roll. Most surprising is what occurs at a low-key post-show hoot session at the home of Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. Roger McGuinn's there. Dylan's there, of course, in another surprising hat. Centre stage, though, is Joni Mitchell. What she's about to play, McGuinn tells us for the benefit of the tape, was written for the tour, although from our vantage point in history we immediately recognise it as "Coyote", the opening song on Mitchell's sumptuous, drifting album Hejira, released in 1976.

There, the song is widescreen and graceful, and it's tempting to think that its effortless forward momentum derives to some degree from its place in the album's dramatic sound picture, piloted by Mitchell and the pulse off fretless bass. Here we are, though, self-evidently in Gordon Lightfoot's dining room (with McGuinn and Dylan trying to keep up on acoustic guitars), and the song is doing much the same - moving with speed and precision through a calm and self-defined space.

It's a scene that shows some of Mitchell's key attributes, not least her ability to put herself at the centre of things and assume artistic control. Hers has been a career that has helped define what might be possible as a singer-songwriter: a development from folk music to the utterly original self-expression of her early records, through jazz, orchestrations and beyond. Here, alongside in-depth reviews of all her albums, you'll read insightful interviews and meticulous reportage on her story. There's a choice of her 30 best songs, too.

When we asked him to contribute to that story, David Crosby- Mitchell's earliest and most constant champion -was unable to make a single selection, but instead simply went some way to explaining why he rates her above everyone, even Dylan. She is, he says, "probably the best writer of us all. I don't think there's any question. You can't help but be affected by her."

With her Archives set just released, and her recovery after her 2015 aneurysm going from strength to strength, now seems a great time to celebrate her work again. I hope you enjoy it.

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Added to Library on November 13, 2021. (491)

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