Joni Mitchell

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Sue Donoghue

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Ladies of the Canyon, Joni Mitchell's third album, is not aimed at fairly literate ex-folkies who will take anyone's fairly literate word for anything. It is aimed at the world…. [Her] voice is narrating twelve stories of different kinds, and consequently needs the top of its range as much as human emotion does, as much as the actress portraying it does. Well and good, so that's what's going on with the unstructured melodies and occasional falsettos for which I couldn't find a corresponding irony in the lyric (ah, me …). But what about those lyrics? Aren't there fewer of the stunning Mitchell images? Doesn't it seem like only 1966's The Circle Game, of all the cuts, is tied as neatly as expected? Well, the images aren't fewer, she just doesn't have to rely on them as much, and after all, 1966 was tied more neatly than '67, which was tied more neatly than '68—and don't imagine that's irrelevant.

In 1966, we still believed in wrapping things neatly—flourish, finish, applause (usually after the downbeat), three or four rhyming stanzas broken as many times by a catchy chorus. And a "statement by the author." Joni Mitchell has gotten so good that she's transcended all the neat little categories and made an invisible film (for brain-viewing). With the best director's eye, she points us in different directions…. She's acting (superbly) in the stories, voice recounting her part and the other ones. Big shifts in range and feeling …, prosy lines, momentary musical digressions to avoid gilding the lily. A damn fine director … as well as composer … as well as author … as well as performer … as well as I've heard anything done. (p. 44)

Sue Donoghue, in Jazz & Pop (© 1970 by Jazz Press Inc.; reprinted by permission of the author), July, 1970.

Yes, it's all here…. Everything we need for another volume of vicarious heartache:

Guess that's a pretty sour way to begin a review of what, in many ways, is Joni's most perfect album ["Blue"]. But then her songs have come to mean so much to me over the years that my reactions to this album are hopelessly subjective and ambivalent.

The problem, I suppose, is one of empathy. Her songs are autobiographical and one's reaction to them depends to a large extent on how far one can relate to the experiences she describes. On her previous albums she has dealt with the joys and sorrows of love: the communication has been direct and often … sharply poignant.

But now, as they say, the scene changes. The success of those songs has made her a Rock Star…. The songs here reflect the hang-ups of such an existence and, for me at least, it's hard to relate to them. There is little pain of passion here: where once she described the nightmare of city life in "Nathan La Freneer" she now muses on the sweet dilemma of being stuck in Paris when she wants to be in California….

None of it is Joni's fault, of course. Her songs continue to reflect her own reality, but where once the truths she distilled were universal, the songs here tend to be inward-looking….

It is, perhaps, as a singer of exquisite, richly-contoured, beautifully singable songs, rather than anything more profound, that she now has her greatest strength. All I know is that despite everything I've said above, this album hasn't been off my turntable in five days. (p. 26)

Melody Maker (© IPC Business Ltd.), July 10, 1971.

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