Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Clouds - Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell
Reprise RS 6341

I didn't like Joni Mitchell when I was a teen.  She was in her jazz phase back then and I disliked jazz and I was irritated by her singing style.  Yeah I was pretty dumb.  It took a college girlfriend to show me the light.  She was a lot more mature and worldly than me and I was easily swayed by her opinions.  She loved Mitchell and had a lot of her records.  She played me this one and I fell for it hard.  By my request we listened to it a lot when we were at her house.  Our relationship didn't last all that long, but my relationship with Mitchell's music has never ended.  Nowadays I'd probably pick "Blue" as my favorite of her records, but I still have a sentimental attachment to this record.  When I spin it, it takes me back to those heady days back at Berkeley, sitting on pillows on the floor, sipping wine, staring at candles and listening to Mitchell's voice come out of the speakers.  At the time it was the most romantic experience I had ever had.  Such a great record.  On the surface it seems like a simple contemporary folk record, just Mitchell and an acoustic guitar, but I don't think there had ever been a folk record like this one when it came out in 1969.  Even though this pre-dates Mitchell's jazz period, she still approaches the songs like a jazz singer.  I've never been able to sing along with her, not only is she way out of my range but she goes in so many directions when she sings, the songs are full of surprises.  Such an amazing voice, even now when I spin this record having heard it so many times, I still find her singing thrilling.  Her voice cuts right through me and it fills me with emotion.  She's also a brilliant lyricist, the songs are full of evocative imagery and poetic expressions.  The album begins with the exploratory opening guitar chords of the deeply romantic "Tin Angel" which deals with a new love.  The upbeat "Chelsea Morning" is an extraordinarily atmospheric song about spending the day with a lover.  It is one of my favorite songs on the album.  I first heard it on Fairport Convention's debut album where it greatly impressed me.  "I Don't Know Where I Stand" was also covered by Fairport on their debut.  It is about being in an early stage of a relationship where she still doesn't know the extent of her lover's feelings for her.  "That Song About The Midway" is a haunting song that uses gambling metaphors to describe the risks of romance.  It has a brilliant vocal, one of my favorites on the record.  Side one ends with "Roses Blue" which criticizes a woman who has become a mystic offering prophesies of the future.  "The Gallery" is another one of my favorite songs on the album.  It uses painting as symbolism for love affairs.  The imagery in this song blows me away.  Mitchell double tracks her vocal on the chorus to great effect.  "I Think I Understand" uses the imagery of a journey to discuss confronting fear.  "Songs to Aging Children Come" has another double tracked vocal as Mitchell duets with herself.  It is a gorgeous song that uses hippie-ish, fairy tale imagery to analyze aging and being open to life's wonder and beauty.  "The Fiddle and The Drum" is the most conventional song on the album.  It is an anti-war song, not as heavy handed as most protest songs but more direct than the other songs on the album.  She sings it a cappella which adds to its gravity.  It is easily my least favorite song on the record.  The album concludes with "Both Sides, Now" which is widely known from Judy Collins' hit chamber pop version.  Her sugary version stands in stark contrast to Mitchell's unadorned take on the song which restores its seriousness.  It is the "Rashomon" of pop songs, exploring the way clouds, love and life change according to perspective and experience.  It combines the simplicity of a great pop song and the resonance of truth.  This record is such a special record to me, I've loved it for so long.  Listening to it is like a time machine, it takes me back through the decades to remember some very happy times.  But my love for this record is not merely nostalgia.  I consider it a masterpiece and I'm firmly convinced that Joni Mitchell is a pop music titan, one of the absolute greats whose music will live forever.  Only a handful of artists in any medium have ever spoken to me with so much feeling.  I'll treasure her records as long as I live.  Recommended for lovers in need of a soundtrack.


  1. I am in complete, total, and absolute agreement with you... she is a tonal goddess!
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  2. She's amazing indeed, and Blue is definitely my favorite as well. My father was a big fan, so I heard her a lot growing up. I can't bear to hear very much of her post '76 material, though -- with only a few exceptions, it just doesn't do much for me. Her voice changed too much, partially, but the style just got to "smooth" for me...

    1. You are lucky to have grown up listening to her. I'm pretty sure my Dad has never even heard of her. Thanks for the comment.