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Clouds is the second album by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell and was released in 1969. There are ten songs of fragile beauty here all produced in a spare and simple way with not much more than an acoustic guitar as a backdrop. Joni Mitchell's wonderful voice is always the complete focal point of the record for understandable reasons. Although the songs often have an air of melancholia and sadness it feels like a record you would listen to the Summer. Reflective but reflective with a flower stuck in your hair. What I love most about this record is that you can imagine the songs on the soundtrack of some great cult American film of the era like Harold and Maude or Silent Running. They exist in a little stratosphere that never feels too mainstream or obvious. This was regarded to be a great leap forward for the singer after her debut album and is remarkably confident and consistent with none of the songs feeling out of place or ones you'd feel obliged to skip. The only possible criticism with this type of music I think is that you could argue it all tends to sound the same in the end but I didn't ever find myself unduly bored listening to Clouds and Joni Mitchell's voice is a always a thing of wonder here. The first song Tin Angel is an early punk experiment and incredibly loud with Joni Mitchell wailing madly through a megaphone. I'm joking of course. It's an affecting beginning to Clouds and has a depressive aura with Joni Mitchell almost speaking rather than singing and using a deeper voice than she does elsewhere. The lyrics here are what I would unimaginatively describe as Joni Mitchell-esque. You aren't always completely sure what she is going on about but you sort of know what she means. "There's a sorrow in his eyes, Like the angel made of tin, What will happen if I try, To place another heart in him."
Chelsea Morning is probably the best known song here and the most immediate and poppy one. If they released Clouds today this would be the song they would choose as the first single. It casts a big spear of sunlight onto the record and is quite catchy with Joni Mitchell using more of a falsetto and conjuring a good melody. It's an impossible song to dislike really and has an infectious enthusiasm. "Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I saw, Was the sun through yellow curtains, and a rainbow on the wall, Blue, red, green and gold to welcome you, crimson crystal beads to beckon, Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I knew, There was milk and toast and honey and a bowl of oranges, too, And the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses." I Don't Know Where I Stand is a really lovely song with Joni Mitchell very falsetto again. She manages to pitch the vocals perfectly here and the song has a sort of seamless hypnotic beauty that floats along. The song is about being alone and talking to someone on the telephone (not a double glazing salesman I hope) but not knowing where you stand or what is going to happen. Or something. That Song About the Midway is nice but perhaps a teensy weeny bit melodramatic in its delivery. It's good but there are better songs here. It goes on for well over four minutes too and feels longer than much of the other stuff on Clouds. I don't think Joni's lyrics are her best here though - "Can you fly, Like an eagle doin' your hunting from the sky?" Hmmn.
I really like Roses Blue because it seems to about dabbling with the occult! Joni Mitchell uses a soprano and the music goes a little bit weird and Outer Limits in the background. Still essentially a gentle song but it has more atmosphere I think. "I think of tears, I think of rain on shingles, I think of rain, I think of roses blue, I think of Rose, my heart begins to tremble, To see the place she's lately gotten to, She's gotten to mysterious devotions, She's gotten to the zodiac and Zen, She's gotten into tarot cards and potions, She's laying her religion on her friends." The Gallery is very falsetto and contains some wonderful vocal harmonies. It's a very pretty song but didn't quite move me in the way that some of the others here did. I Think I Understand is very folksy (what else?) and haunting and seems to about mental illness. Joni Mitchell is on top form here with her delicate vocal contortions and ability to suddenly go even softer and understated - just when you think she must have bottomed out and crash landed in a gigantic sea of cotton wool and feathers, cushioned by a million bouncy castles. "Daylight falls upon the path, the forest falls behind, Today I am not prey to dark uncertainty, The shadow trembles in its wrath, I've robbed its blackness blind, And tasted sunlight as my fear came clear to me." The guitar and vocals on the next one - Songs to Aging Children Come - are both so pretty. This is one of the most magical songs on Clouds and immediately envelops the listener in a celestial aura of calm and wonder.
"Through the windless wells of wonder By the throbbing light machine, In a tea leaf trance or under, Orders from the king and queen, Songs to aging children come Aging children, I am one." I really like this one. I've no idea what a tree leaf trance is but it sounds good to me. Much better than a Vimto nightmare. The Fiddle and the Drum is a very spartan and simple anti-war song delivered in a simple almost spoken way. Bit bleak but heartfelt and effective in what it sets out to do. "And so once again, Oh, America my friend, And so once again, You are fighting us all, And when we ask you why, You raise your sticks and cry and we fall, Oh, my friend, How did you come To trade the fiddle for the drum." Not the prettiest song here though obviously compared to much of what has come before. Finally, the title song Clouds, one of the loveliest on the album and a fitting way to end. This is much more honey drenched, whimsical and immediate than the previous song and a languid, dreamy and reflective way to end. "I've looked at clouds from both sides now, From up and down, and still somehow, It's cloud illusions I recall, I really don't know clouds at all." This song is notable for the line about "ice cream castles in the air". That's a nice thought. Floating castles selling ice cream. They would make a fortune! Clouds is a wonderful record and more or less as good as Blue I think. There are a couple of songs that are maybe less pretty than others but I think the consistent wonder of Joni Mitchell's voice and the wonderful mood created is hard to beat.
When I was searching for Joni Mitchell Albums on Dooyoo, I couldn't believe that no reviews currently existed for this album, 'Clouds', even though several exist for her other albums. Joni Mitchell has enjoyed an extremely varied and successful musical career, and as a young man in his early twenties, I'm so thrilled that I'm able to listen to, and appreciate, over forty years of Joni Mitchell legacy. Of all her albums, however, I think Clouds stands out as the pivotal record of her career, namely because despite all her musical experimentation in the seventies and branching out to jazz, electronic, and synthesised sounds, Clouds represents the roots of her music. It's raw, acoustic, and free of embellishments; but it's folky, rich, and harmonious.
The bulk of the album is little more than Joni and a guitar, and I think it's this basic and no-frills approach that gives the album such an organic feeling. The lyrics are heartfelt and emotional, whilst the comforting strum of guitar adds just the right accompaniment for the tone of the songs. The CD consists of 10 songs in total, and won the grammy for Best Folk Album in 1970.
Probably the most famous song on the album is "both sides now" which was famously re-recorded in 2000 for the album of the same name, later featured on the film <i>Love Actually</i>. This is the original, which has a very different tone to the rerecording, one of comfortable resignation than the melancholy and despair that is expressed in the rerecording.
This album really does explore the roots of Joni's music, and is a must-buy for anyone interested in her art and musical style.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Tin Angel
2 Chelsea Morning
3 I Don't Know Where I Stand
4 That Song About The Midway
5 Roses Blue
7 I Think I Understand
8 Songs To Ageing Children Come
9 Fiddle And The Drum
10 Both Sides Now