Legendary folk singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell released an anthology set of sorts, “Archives- Vol 1: The Early Years (1963-1967).” The 5 hour 27 minute run time includes a variety of Mitchell’s discography including unreleased demos, covers and live versions of her most famous tracks.
I was able to follow Mitchell on her musical journey after listening to all five hours of the first addition in her archive series. It is difficult to review this project given the vastness of it. I look at it rather as a whole, so it allows listeners to track the development of Mitchell as a songwriter.
The first nine songs are all covers of well-known folk songs. The one that stood out the most to me was “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song).” It was hard to get through emotionally, since the lyrics, while not Joni’s original, were sung with such poignancy. They felt as though they were written by her. This is a constant throughout Mitchell’s work – she possesses such a talent for songwriting.
The album eventually moves to Mitchell’s earlier original songs which are deeply reminiscent of early 60’s folk rock. So many of her songs stand alone as poetry. They do not even need instrumental backing, but they are obviously made so much richer with Mitchell’s guitar or piano abilities.
One of my favorites on this project is “The Circle Game,” which was originally released on her 1970 album “Ladies of the Canyon.” This song is the embodiment of her storytelling abilities and is enriched by the imagery Mitchell sings of. The track follows the life of a boy growing up and details the shifting perceptions of time and how it changes with age.
It is appropriate to listen to this album during fall. Mitchell’s music always strikes me as being applicable to autumn. The encroaching end of the year and changing of seasons are embodied in Mitchell’s music since they capture the fleeting sensations that time tends to give us.
Although the trees don’t change color in San Luis Obispo, the air is somehow more crisp and light – which I liken to the gentleness of Mitchell’s timbre. Often Mitchell sings in minor keys over major guitar chords, or vice versa. This contrast tends to give her music a beautifully haunting quality.
I felt compelled to approach this project from a more introspective perspective given that Mitchell has clearly cemented herself in music history. This is not a review of whether or not this is “good” music. Needless to say it is, but what is so profound about this project is its ability to encapsulate an era of folk rock so clearly shaped by Mitchell as an artist.
Mitchell’s discography has been instrumental to me and my music taste, so much so I got a tattoo of one of her album covers. However, the personal attachment I have to Mitchell’s music is why I wanted to write about it. Her music reminds me deeply of my mom (who introduced me to Mitchell) and the many car rides we’ve shared soundtracked by “Blue” – arguably Mitchell’s greatest work.
What I find most remarkable about Mitchell and always have – or at least since my mom stressed the necessity of Mitchell in my music library – is the simplicity of her music. Most of Mitchell’s music is gentle guitar strumming accompanied by one of the most unique voices in all of music. To be able to possess the ability to move listeners so deeply with so little production is one that amazes me.
I urge listeners to pick any track off this project to see how wise Mitchell comes off as – even in the earliest part of her career – through her storytelling. The profound impact Mitchell has had on music, particularly through her delivery of lyrics, is something that defines this archival series, as listeners get to know Mitchell on a more personal level.