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Ladies of the Canyon is the third album by Joni Mitchell and was released in 1970. This is much in the vein of Clouds and Blue and contains several songs that are prettier than snow crystals sparkling in the sun. I haven't listened to any later Joni Mitchell albums so I don't know if she ever branched out and experimented with her music or if I would like that change or not but I do love the flower strewn minimalist floaty cloud hippy aura on her first batch of records. You feel like feeding a bunny rabbit on Bruce Dern's spaceship. I did find though that there was a gloomy piano triumvirate in the middle of this album that was maybe one song too many for me. Half-way through I felt like I needed a bit more air and hazy sunshine. I felt like Joni Mitchell needed to open the blinds a little and space the melodrama out more. Aside from that though Ladies of the Canyon is often amazing. Morning Morgantown is a really pretty song to begin and just has some spare piano music in the background to accompany the singer's particular meditation. Joni Mitchell's voice goes very falsetto and soft to wonderful effect and it's an impossible song to dislike or not feel somewhat lifted by. The lyrics desribe a lazy sunny morning and the author sort of describes all the things she sees and how she feels. Joni Mitchell songs sometimes have a strong element of sadness, reflection and melancholia but this is one to cheer you up and make you feel optimistic and happy. "We'll rise up early, with the sun, To ride the bus while everyone is yawning, And the day is young, In morning Morgantown." For Free finds the singer a bit more baritone and melodramatic, again accompanied by a piano. It's a very restrained and spare piano though obviously. It's not like she has Liberace hammering away in the background in a big silver cape. It's not my favourite song here but it is nice enough.
The song seems to be about the dark side of fame and how it can play hideous tricks on the brain. "Now me I play for fortunes, And those velvet curtain calls, I've got a black limousine, And two gentlemen, Escorting me to the halls, And I play if you have the money, Or if you're a friend to me." Conversation is really good. It's a bit faster than your usual Joni Mitchell fare and features some lovely gentle strumming on the guitar. The melody is very immediate and charming and Joni Mitchell's voice is amazing here and seems to change constantly through the course of the song. She does some great warbling too. The song seems to be all about unrequited love. Her lyrics are sometimes whimsical and abstract but this one seems clear enough. "He comes for conversation, I comfort him sometimes, Comfort and consultation, He knows that's what he'll find." The title song Ladies of the Canyon is similar to Morning Morgantown and another very pretty hippy folksy song. This refers to Laurel Canyon in California which was apparently a thriving centre for musicians and artists in the sixties. "Trina wears her wampum beads, She fills her drawing book with line, Sewing lace on widows' weeds, And filigree on leaf and vine, Vine and leaf are filigree." Very of the era and pleasant. The next song Willy is a bit gloomy to be honest. Bit more melodramatic and earnest rather than floaty lighter than air Joni Mitchell. "Now he wants to run away and hide, He says our love cannot be real, He cannot hear the chapel's pealing silver bells." Not my favourite song on the album. The Arrangement is similar too. Rather downbeat with Joni Mitchell wailing a little bit (Joni Mitchell wailing is not a tremendous assault on the eardrums by anyone else's standards but this doesn't have dreamy enveloping tranquil quality of the very best songs here). "Now he wants to run away and hide, He says our love cannot be real, He cannot hear the chapel's pealing silver bells."
Rainy Night House is another sad reflective song with piano that conjures of an image of gazing out of the window in a trance as the rain bounces off cars and makes puddles in the street, wondering if you should have done something differently. The Priest is a welcome return to hippy trippy Joni Mitchell with some nice strummy (is that a word?) guitars and a very running through a meadow saying hello to bunny rabbits and picking flowers super sixties/seventies atmosphere. "Behind the lash and the circles blue, He looked as only a priest can thru, And his eyes said me and his eyes said you, And my eyes said let us try." I liked this song. Blue Boy is another piano weepie and again rather melodramatic. The emotion does seem heartfelt though with Joni Mitchell's voice appearing very fragile and genuine. Big Yellow Taxi is a song that most people would recognise if it was played to them and the most famous one here. I've no idea what songs were singles off Ladies of the Canyon but if you were releasing this album now then Big Yellow Taxi would be a cast iron certainty to be chosen as the first single for its radio friendly appeal and jaunty atmosphere and style. It's faster than most of the stuff here with poppy guitar and a very catchy hooky chorus. Joni Mitchell sounds different here again - no melodrama or vocal contortions, just singing a very simple and enjoyable song in winning fashion. You know exactly what she means here with the lyrics too. Very universal. "Don't it always seem to go, That you don't know what you've got, Till it's gone, They paved paradise, And put up a parking lot."
Woodstock is not one my favourite songs here but it is pleasant enough and builds in an effective manner. Joni Mitchell is almost speaking rather than singing at the start and then her voice begins to shape itself around the mood generated by the lyrics and the background music (which is of course very spare as usual). This song is a tribute to Woodstock, the little yellow bird in the Charlie Brown and Snoopy comics. Not really. It's a self-explanatory title innit. Does have the wonderful and famous line - "We are stardust, We are golden, And we've got to get ourselves, Back to the garden." The Circle Game ends Ladies of the Canyon on a very folky and hippy note, not entirely unlike Morning Morgantown although not quite as lovely and charming as that song. The Circle Game is about the rites of passage of a boy and really good in its best moments. "Yesterday a child came out to wonder, Caught a dragonfly inside a jar, Fearful when the sky was full of thunder, And tearful at the falling of a star." It's an appropriate way to end the record and brings everything to a satisfying denouement. I didn't quite find Ladies of the Canyon as strong as Blue or Clouds but it's only a fraction behind those other early albums and contains some songs that are the equal of anything on them. Morning Morgantown is as pulchritudinous as can be and Big Yellow Taxi is just as immediate and catchy as the more radio slanted songs on Blue or Clouds. Ladies of the Canyon is a great record though for the vast majority of its running time and abounds with delicate wonder and graceful introspection. Joni Mitchell's voice is again wonderful too of course. At the time of writing you can buy Ladies of the Canyon for about a fiver.
I enjoy listening to most types of music from bubble pop to Goth rock to classical but I especially enjoy folk. I first heard Joni Mitchell when her music was featured in a television drama. The particular music used was quite solemn and emotional and against the backdrop of a dramatic acting scene seemed quite stunning and could even have been the backbone of the scene.
I had heard of Mitchell before but never heard anything beyond her well known hit 'Big Yellow Taxi', which I had never really loved that much. I googled the television show to find out what music had been used in the show, discovered the song was on this album, 'Ladies of the Canyon' (1970), Mitchell's third album, and promptly bought the newly digitally remastered version.
When I first played through the album I thought Mitchell's voice was absolutely adorable. Her range was amazing - she could effortlessly move between high and low notes and she also had a sort of cooky way of pronouncing certain words.
The style of music was somewhat new to me but reminded me of everything I'd ever learned about the peace and free love movements of the sixties. The performances sound so natural and easy that they could be those of a singer who is busking in a festival field somewhere or entertaining on a street corner.
The themes also evoke images of this era and are memorable events of this time arae referenced in songs like 'Woodstock'. The Bohemian lifestyles of the general masses and in particular those of musicians and artists is also a theme running though the album.
The track listing is as follows:
1. Morgantown: This has a child-like innocence about it. Mitchell's view of this little town and the townsfolk is naive and charming. She sees this place as a quiet, heavenly haven where 'stop and go lights' flash in an idle manner and people cruise about in 'rainbow fashions', yawning and stopping to drink tea and lemonade at the local cafe. Morgantown sounds like the ideal town and Mitchell totally relates that.
2. For Free: This song draws into attention Mitchell's celebrity and success and evaluates their meaning. She questions these blessings as if the monetary aspect involved in success might have diminished her art in some way. She holds a light up to a jazz street performer who plays "for free". It is a thought-provoking song and the musical style seems to portray a hint of regret.
3. Conversation: This song has an upbeat feel to it. It is more fast paced than the songs that have gone before and includes quirky vocal punctuations. The song seems to refer to a personal relationship with a man who is already taken!
4. Ladies Of the Canyon: This song really sums up for me that Bohemian lifestyle of the 1960's. Mitchell draws a picture of several woman living in a communal situation and describes their cost-cutting back to nature style lifestyle with wonderful insight. I absolutely love the portrayal of these women who wear second hand coats and gypsy shawls as they bake brownies and collect flowers and herbs.
5. Willy: This song feels focused and a little serious although it was apparantly written as a dedication to Graham Nash. The song is inspirational and the lyrics are very evocative and poetic.
6. The Arrangement: This song is quite sombre and has a darker feel to it. Mitchell draws attention to the consumer lifestyle and rallies against this telling the subject of the song that they "could have been more" than a credit card, a consumer and a name on the door of the thirty-third floor.
7.Rainy Night House: A song that brings to life a night between two friends or lovers. There is a kind of emotional, intellectual intimacy that is portrayed in the song and this is touching and very beautiful.
8. The Priest: This song relates the story of a man and a woman and thier complicated relationship. The lyrics contain references that I often can't understand but which are very intelligent and heartfelt.
9. Blue Boy: A fantastical song which has a adult fairytale feel to it. Whether the lyrics are to be taken literally is another matter but Mitchell refers to the man of the song turning to stone and of having a "granite grace". A woman's love for this idol turns her into the same kind of statue.
10. Big Yellow Taxi: This is a fun song which has since been sampled by Janet Jackson and covered by artists like Amy Grant. It has an upbeat feel to it and Mitchell uses her voice as a tool to translate the comedy of the story. The lyrics of course can relate to environmental issues.
11. Woodstock: This is my favourite track on the album and it definately has a different feel to any of the other songs. It is more poignant and the musical style seems much more sophisticated and structured. The lyrics relate to the Woodstock festival and captures the mood of the collected masses in lines like "I dreamed I saw the bombers riding shotgun in the sky and they were turning into butterflies..." The feeling of this mass movement and the hope they had of making life better is evoked in lines like "I feel to be a cog in something turning...life is for learning". A brilliant portrayal of this historic event.
12. The Circle Game: Another of Mitchell's better known tracks. This song echoes the sense of innocence that was shown in the beginning of the album. The lyrics relate to a child who grows up and the hopes and dreams common in all human beings.
This was my first Joni Mitchell album and it was not my last. I recommend this to anyone interested in hearing genuine, heartfelt folk music.
In her nearly four decades as a musician and lyricist, Joni Mitchell has spanned the fields of folk, pop, rock, and jazz with 23 albums. Her willingness to change direction without warning has frequently left fans upset, but its exactly that free spirit has kept her fresh and allowed her to endure a long and interesting career. Originally from Canada, Joni Mitchell moved to New York City in 1967, and took up residence in the arty Chelsea district. She met Elliot Roberts in the fall and he began to manage her career, helping to open up the circuit for her in New York City. Later while performing at a club in Florida, Joni met ex-Byrds member David Crosby, who was quite taken with her. David was a great help in convincing the record company to agree to let Joni record a solo acoustic album and with that she was on her way. By the time Ladies of the Canyon came out in 1971, Joni Mitchell was becoming a big name, immediately successful on the radio and selling swiftly in the first few months this, her third album, eventually sold half a million copies to make it her first gold album.
So what is it that makes Joni Mitchell such an original and well-respected musical name? Well on this album it's the understated sparseness of the folk sound that she helped to promote coupled with one of the most admired voices of that era, or indeed any era. When you read the list of musicians on the CD's back cover, you realise that what you are going to get is by and large Mitchell herself with very little in the way of a band. Thirty odd years on, in world of over production and fashion statement bands, it's refreshing to be reacquainted with a real musician delivering songs that are forged very much from her own abilities. There are not many artists today who would be brave enough to record with the emptiness that this album brings, and fewer still who would pull it off successfully.
Opening with just a gentle picked guitar progression, her striking voice is not far behind it and that mesmerising simplicity that she possessed holds you for the duration of "Morning Morgantown." Occasionally a laid back piano joins in and the choruses are treated to a minimal percussion affect, but the song really captures what Joni Mitchell was about and you feel that if you saw here perform this live it would sound much the same. "For Free" is a piano led ballad telling of a busker whose music she hears one day. She compares their relative lifestyles, hers, all limousines and album sales, his playing for the chance to buy the next meal, though both musicians as valid as each other, separated only by a lucky break, which most never get. A clarinet is the only addition to this musical tale supplying a cool jazz ending just to wake you out of the hypnotic saga being unfolded here.
Back on to the guitar for "Conversation" it opens reminiscent of one of her more famous numbers that follows on this album. Her voice is working at its characteristic higher register, a much copied but never bettered vocal style. It is on songs such as this that you can see the influences that left their mark in the work of later artists, particularly Suzanne Vega and to a lesser degree Tracy Chapmen. Again tailing off to a mix of woodwind sounds and an up-tempo play out, it provides a nice contrast to the title track to follow.
A very folk style, a mellow mix of resonant twelve-string guitar, clear voice and layered vocal choruses. Although all of the songs feature mainly only Mitchell herself, her ability to make them all sound very different using only a limited range of musical building blocks is a masterful art. No gimmicks, no complex arrangements and no massive cast of session extras, just a solo artist at the top of her game.
The next two songs," Willy" and "The Arrangement" are minimal piano-accompanied songs, centred on a regular topic in Mitchell's work, relationships. Always keeping the details fairly vague and anonymous, as she does, allows us to relate to the themes, sort of fill in your own nouns in the relevant places. "Rainy Night House" continues in a similar fashion and although the style is familiar there is a real sense of emotion in this song, not there it was in anyway lacking before, but there seems to be a real flood of from the heart beauty in this song. I still can work out if the song is of a positive or negative nature but it is probably enough to let the song and its single room drama wash over the listener.
Two more songs "The Priest" and "Blue Boy" follow on guitar and piano respectively before the wistful and slightly sad ballads clear to reveal what is probably Mitchell's most recognisable song. The up beat guitar riff is instantly recognisable and by the time you reach the chorus of "Big Yellow Taxi" you will be singing the chorus with her. A warning to keeping hold of the things that really matter this is a short and snappy song that clears the atmosphere generated by the ballads that preceded it.The ethereal "Woodstock" follows, another much covered song and as the piano opening gives way to Mitchell's voice the spirit of a time long gone hangs in the air. Almost an a capella arrangement the song is formed just by the glorious tones of the vocal delivery, the piano almost acting only to add a beat to the song. As if in contrast the richer full tones of "The Circle Game" round off the album, layers of chorus vocals and a lush guitar melody follow a young boys journey to manhood through the revolving seasons.
As an introduction to Joni Mitchell's work, especially if her earlier folk days that launched her appeal to you, this is a good place to begin your acquaintance with her work. A laid back album that falls into the category of mood music, but a collection of great songs and wonderful tales from the world as she has seen it. It is almost a snap shot of the attitude that sums up the late sixties and early seventies when many were trying to create a mellower and more gentle society, they may not have succeeded but this album is justification enough of their efforts.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Morning Morgantown
2 For Free
4 Ladies Of The Canyon
7 Rainy Night House
9 Blue Boy
10 Big Yellow Taxi
12 Circle Game