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Joni Mitchell: The Message is Love   Print

by Richard Cowan
Washington Post
June 22, 1969

If, indeed, it is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, then it is natural that love should become the artist's new medium. And, as someone tells us McLuhan tells us, love becomes "the message."

At least it's the message of Joni Mitchell's first album, Clouds (Reprise 6341). Love permeates even the songs which do not concern themselves directly with that emotion, for it is present in her singing. Miss Mitchell has a sweetness and a gentility in her voice which can belie the disillusion and mistrust in the lyrics of a song like "The Gallery."

She is an artist. The chord patterns in "Roses Blue" seem non sequiturs at first, and may be quite taxing, but they hang together well, and soon the listener forms an individual conception of the cut as a whole.

Many of the songs on the LP have very different melodies; trying to run them down may seem, at times, like chasing wild geese (or chasing geese wildly). But soon patterns begin to emerge, and the listener may flatter himself to be rather ingenious to have recognized them.

However, it is not his ingenuity but Miss Mitchell's. Her lyrics and melodies have a fine turn to them cool and glistening as icicles, but glowing warm as embers.

The inside of the album jacket contains the lyrics from all her songs on the LP. And, perhaps not too amazingly in the light of her talent in the performance of her songs, the lyrics read so well as poetry that even if we didn't like the performance, we could still dig the poetry. Two pieces in this remarkable collection are worthy of somewhat more than cursory examination and comment.

One, "The Fiddle And The Drum," is sung a capella, without the single guitar with which Miss Mitchell usually accompanies herself. It is a foreigner's view (she is Canadian) of what the United States' world role has become. The lyrics succeed tremendously, but the melody is a toughie, making us see the important part the guitar plays in our understanding of Jnoi Mitchell's songs. It is obviously so important a piece on the album that we don't see why she couldn't have unified it completely with at least some kind of instrumental guideline.

"Both Sides, Now" was recorded and released earlier this year by Judy Collins. Miss Mitchell sang it on the premier of the Johnny Cash Show (the one with Dylan on it, in case you missed it), giving it the interpretation it had when she wrote it. It is clean, fresh and free, bubbling with childlike curiosity and calm with adult knowledge.

The album is well rehearsed and produced. Joni Mitchell is one of the few new artists who, having dropped in, I hope will stay with us.

 

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