Joni Mitchell’s Archives: Digging the Roots of a Living Legend

Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971) traces the development of her seminal songs

The second volume of Joni Mitchell’s Archive Series is out now (Image: Joni’s Twitter)

What becomes a legend the most? To put it another way, how special is that one in particular known as Joni Mitchell?

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

Consider this — is there any individual who has been more influential in terms of the singer / songwriter movement of the past 50 years? Those are questions that spawn obvious answers of course. Mitchell is one of those indelible artists who stand alone in a category of their own, one  whose name alone defines their artistry and accomplishment. 

At age 78 and plagued by a variety of maladies, including a stroke, post-polio health issues, and a mysterious condition called Morgellons disease, Mitchell’s no longer able to share her skills, a loss that’s robbed us of her genius at a time when we may need it the most. It’s a tragedy of course, but fortunately, she left so much magic behind, that her art will still be enjoyed and appreciated for decades to come. 

Happily too, the good folks at Rhino Records are doing their part to keep her legacy alive, courtesy of a series of archival offerings that trace her trajectory from early on in her career. This latest box set, Archives Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971) is a highly-anticipated follow-up to her initial collection of rarities released last year, one that follows Mitchell through one of her most prolific periods leading up to her primary masterpiece, Blue. Where the first collection was focused on her origins and recordings made prior to her wider recognition, this box finds her at the finally coming into her own, courtesy of demos, alternate versions and live tracks, many recorded in Carnegie Hall (with special guest James Taylor), on the BBC and the Dick Cavett Show. 

 

 

The concert settings themselves are worthy of note, given that they shift from small club settings to those aforementioned larger stages, offering her opportunity to preview and present soon-to-be classics like “Urge for Going,” “Ladies of the Canyon,” “A Case of You,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Both Sides Now,” and “For Free.” An unexpected bonus comes by way of a March 1968 performance at Le Hibou Coffee House in Ottawa was recorded by Jimi Hendrix, who, ironically enough, was one of her most ardent admirers. 

Collectors will also be enthralled by the various demos and outtakes, many of which represent songs that seem to have emerged fully formed. That said, one of the more essential offerings is a series of songs recorded at a friend’s New York apartment in Chelsea, the locale that also inspired Chelsea Morning.” In contrast, several of the numbers included here  never made their way to eventual release. They include a piece titled “Pirates of Penance,” and an unfinished excerpt called “Turn Around.”  They’re all fascinating to listen to, making for a fly-on-the-wall type of experience, even in their unfinished state.

For example, demos of “Woodstock,” “Song to a Seagull” and a track titled “Hunter” originally intended for Blue add to the fascination. Likewise, a booklet boasting liner notes and unseen photos from Mitchell’s own archive offer additional enticement, making the cost for this sumptuous package well worth the effort and expense.

Joni Mitchell. Those two words represent the pinnacle of craft and creativity. It follows then that these archival offerings become an apt reminder of the great gift she’s shared. Consider them to. Be nothing less than absolutely essential.

 

AUDIO: Joni Mitchell “The Dawntreader”

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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