Joni Mitchell has established herself as a songwriter and musician of note during the course of her forty-two year career. She began as a late ‘60s folk artist, released a series of acclaimed jazz/pop/vocal albums, and finally settled in as a respected pop/songwriter since the early ‘90s. She has always been fiercely independent and has self-produced all her releases since her debut.
Ladies Of The Canyon finds Mitchell in an early transition stage. Her music had become more textured and sophisticated and the lyrics more introspective. She would begin to expand her sound from just the acoustic guitar of her first two releases as she started to explore new directions. The album was her commercial break through and sold over a million copies.
Her voice is an acquired taste for some, but it lends an authenticity to her songs of peace, love, community, and mortality. This was a very gentle release for 1969 and many of the tracks embrace the philosophical best of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
Three of her best-known compositions end the album. “Big Yellow Taxi” is one of the great environmental protest songs. Most folk artists were very serious about the topic but Mitchell took it all in a whimsical direction. Meanwhile, I have always preferred her own simple rendition of “Woodstock” over the version by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It fits better as a quiet folk tune rather than an electric guitar-based rock song. “The Circle Game” is a hopeful song about the dreams that life may bring, and remains one of her best and most-covered compositions.
The disc contains a number of other Joni Mitchell delights. “Morning Morgantown” is the album’s first track and is one of her more melodic compositions, providing wistful and happy recollections of just about anyone’s home town. “Rainy Night House” and “The Arrangement” travel in a more serious direction but the music contains an elegant beauty. “Conversation” is a reflective and ultimately satisfying pure folk song.
Ladies Of The Canyon was the first of nine studio albums Mitchell released during the decade and began the formation of one of the strongest ‘70s catalogues in American music history. Now forty years old, it remains a strong musical statement by a talented and revered songwriter.