Here is Joni Mitchell. A penny yellow blonde with a vanilla voice. Influenced, or appearing influenced, by Judy Collins, gingham, leather, lace, producer David Crosby (the ex-Byrd), Robert Herrick, North Battleford (Saskatchewan), New York (New York), Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Chuck, seagulls, dolphins, taxicabs, Dairy Queen floats, someone named Mr. Kratzman, "who taught me to love words," the Lovin' Spoonful, rain, sunlight, garbage, metermaids and herself.
To folk music followers, Joni Mitchell is no stranger. Her songs have been recorded recently by Judy Collins, Tom Rush, Ian and Sylvia, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dave Van Ronk and others. Now she sings her songs herself. Some of her better known numbers ("Circle Came," "Both Sides Now," "Urge for Going") have been omitted in favor of new material, but after hearing it you know she's been saving some of her best for herself.
The Joni Mitchell album, despite a few momentary weaknesses, is an good debut. Her lyrics are striking. Her tunes are unusual, Her voice is clear and natural.
Miss Mitchell is a lyrical kitchen poet. "Michael brings you to park/ He sings and it's dark, /When the clouds come by, /Yellow slickers up on swings /Like puppets on strings /Hanging in the sky . . ."
Joni Mitchell is Leonard Cohen's Suzanne: she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers.
Joni Mitchell leaps from image to image but seldom leaves you hanging. Occasionally her lyrics seem to lose relevance and become frosting without any cake, but then she's like a sand dune: you like the idea of her.
Joni's tunes are surprising. You don't go whistling then down the street right away because you don't learn them so easily. Her notes do not flow into each other naturally; they are put there one by one as the song is constructed. This method may not produce consistency, but it does produce flashes of brilliance and sometimes these occur so regularly that a higher consistency is achieved. Listen a while to the lilting chorus of "Night in the City" or the gentle verses to "Marcie" and you may find yourself whistling them after all.
One of the major new departures of this album may at first appear atavistic. Joni Mitchell uses no orchestration. She plays acoustic guitar. Her only side-man is Stephen Stills (of the Buffalo Springfield) on one number ("Night in the City") because, she says, "he came up with a beautiful bass line that I just couldn't deny." Her main studio trick is to dub in her voice a second time as a choral answer on certain songs.
"If I'd recorded a year ago," as Joni tells it "I would have used lots of orchestration. No one would have let me put out an acoustic album. They would have said it's like having a whole paintbox and using only brown. But today is a better time to be recording. It's like in fashion. There's no real style right now. You find who you are and you dress accordingly. In music today I feel that I can put down my songs with an acoustic guitar and forget the violins and not feel that I need them."
In contrast to the narrative verses and repetitive choruses that mark traditional music, there is in Joni Mitchell's work a full sense of composed music and written words. Had she added "lots of orchestration " the whole structure might have buckled under its own weight. As it is, the album serves as a reminder that and music and voices and imagination are more vital than arrangements with orchestration. If nothing else, the album is good for the soul.