The dive into the Canadian singer-songwriter’s archives continues with Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971), a new volume exploring the creative environment of her first four studio albums, from Song to a Seagull to Blue. It features almost a hundred unreleased live and studio tracks, including a historic performance at Carnegie Hall in New York and a concert recorded by none other than Jimi Hendrix!
An exceptional songwriter, gifted singer and guitarist, painter and inspiration to generations of musicians and songwriters, Joni Mitchell had previously refused to look back at her illustrious career. The 77-year-old Canadian icon therefore surprised everyone last year by announcing the launch of a major reissue campaign. Retired from the stage and studio for nearly two decades, Joni Mitchell has been personally involved in the elaboration of these chronological box sets that include alternative and live recordings gathered over her five decade-long career.
After the first box set that covered the period 1963-1967 and the folk performances that preceded her recording debut, Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971) captures the outtakes from her first four studio albums: Song to a Seagull (1968), Clouds (1969), Ladies of the Canyon (1970) and Blue, released in June 1971. Complementing the The Reprise Albums (1968-1971) 4 CD/4 LP collection released last July by compiling these official albums, Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 2 will be released on October 29th as a 5 CD box set in a 15×15 cm format. Its 40-page booklet is illustrated with numerous previously unreleased photos from Joni Mitchell’s personal collection and is accompanied by an interview with writer/director Cameron Crowe. Vinyl fans will also be able to purchase a 10 LP 180-gram edition limited to 4,000 copies.
In the studio
The chronological tracklisting of these 5 CDs with content ranging from demos, studio sessions, concerts and radio broadcasts starts in the winter of 1967-1968. Joni Mitchell was preparing to record her very first album, Song to a Seagull, under the guidance of David Crosby. Along with demos captured on tape at her Laurel Canyon home and in her friend Jane Lurie’s New York apartment, the first CD of Archives Vol.2 opens with a cinematic nod: like Bob Dylan and Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell was approached by the production company of John Schlesinger’s Oscar-winning masterpiece Macadam Cowboy to compose its title track. Her song “Midnight Cowboy” was not selected, and Harry Nilsson ended up winning the movie credits with his unforgettable “Everybody’s Talkin’”. The Song to a Seagull sessions are represented by a three-part set of stunning previously unreleased material (“Jeremy”, “Conversation”, “The Gift of the Magi”) and her first studio version of “Both Sides, Now”, a hit for Judy Collins in 1967 before appearing on Clouds, Joni Mitchell’s second album. The latter is illustrated on CD4 by three unreleased tracks recorded at A&M Studios in Hollywood in the spring of 1969: “Conversation”, “Blue Boy” and “The Priest”.
Among the three excerpts from the Ladies of the Canyon sessions, released in 1970, is a document of great historical value: the demo of “Woodstock”, the unofficial anthem of the famous festival that Joni Mitchell did not attend! Held back in New York because of her participation in the Dick Cavett Show, the singer-songwriter watched the festival on television and composed a ballad that would be covered the following year by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in their best-selling album Déjà Vu. Recorded in late 1969 at A&M Studios in Hollywood, this take differs from its official version by its acoustic piano arrangement, which was eventually replaced by a Wurlitzer. The exploration of the Ladies of the Canyon sessions continues with alternative mixes of its title track (with double bass orchestration) and the second appearance of “Blue Boy”, which ends with a flute piece that was deleted in the final edition of the album. Then we go behind the scenes of Blue, considered by many as the first discographic highlight of Joni Mitchell’s repertoire. Recorded in September 1970 and early 1971, the demos of “A Case of You”, “California” and “Hunter” appear in configurations close to their final versions, with the exception of “River”, which is enhanced with a delicate horn arrangement. Concluding the fifth CD, which also includes studio conversations and a few drafts of unfinished songs, the unreleased version of “Urge for Going” adorned with majestic strings, then discarded from Blue before being released in 1972 as a B-side to the single “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio”, is the crowning glory of this selection of alternative recordings.
On March 19, 1968, a few minutes before Joni Mitchell was about to perform at the Hibou Coffee House in Ottawa, a fan introduced himself to the artist: “My name is Jimi Hendrix. I’m on the same label as you. Reprise Records. I’d like to record your show. Do you mind?” Moments later, the iconic guitarist took a seat at a stage-side table and plugged in his tape recorder. Two days later, the camera and the precious recordings were stolen, to the dismay of Jimi Hendrix… The famous tape was lost for several decades before being rediscovered in 2010 in the archives of Richard Patterson, then drummer for the Ottawa-based band The Esquires. 53 years after this intimate performance, this document, masterfully restored by Bernie Grundman, captures a performance by Joni Mitchell a few days before the release of Song to a Seagull and shows us that Jimi Hendrix was as good a guitarist as he was a sound engineer! Almost a year after the low-key performance at the Hibou Coffee House, Joni Mitchell was back at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York. “I’ve come a long way since Saskatoon,” the evening’s headliner said at the end of a dazzling set that included excerpts from Song to a Seagull, the future Clouds (“Chelsea Morning”, “Both Sides, Now”) and a nine-minute medley combining “The Circle Game” and “Little Green”.
This key milestone in Joni Mitchell’s meteoric rise continues with the In Concert BBC Radio Broadcast, taped at the Paris Theatre in London on October 29, 1970. Taking up most of the fifth and final CD of the set, this radio broadcast presented by John Peel anticipates the release of Blue by unveiling “A Case of You”, “My Old Man”, “River”, “California”, and features singer-songwriter (and bandmate) James Taylor. The soft-rock troubadour joins Joni Mitchell mid-performance to perform a series of duets, including “For Free” and “You Can Close Your Eyes”, the B-side of James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend. The chemistry and complicity shine through in an acoustic performance during which Joni Mitchell departs from the guitar-piano format of this anthology by introducing her dulcimer, a traditional instrument from Appalachia, to BBC listeners. To discover the no less exciting electrification of Joni Mitchell’s music, you’ll have to wait a few more months before the anticipated exploration of the albums For the Roses (1972), Court and Spark (1974) and The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975) in the third volume of this invaluable archive.
by Christophe GEUDIN