1974 was a fine year for Joni Mitchell enthusiasts.
In the spring came her heartstopping Court and Spark, a bold though evolutionary fusing of her tight, colorful poetry with lush jazz-rock arrangements. Close on the heels of the album was an exhaustive concert tour that covered both the United States and Canada and attracted sellout crowds.
From this series has come Miles of Aisles, Mitchell's first live album (with the exception of an excellent bootleg disc), and a milestone of the recording science. In the last three or four years, it has become standard for bands suffering from a dearth of fresh material to release a live album, featuring at least one extended instrumental interlude that degenerates into a feedback-ridden bore
In contrast, Miles of Aisles is blessed with a triumphant clean sound that almost glows. The instruments maintain their individuality, and Mitchell's soaring vocals are pristinely preserved. Seldom has a live album sounded better.
The same can be said for Miss Mitchell. She is in firm control of the proceedings, and her voice is in fine shape.
Her phrasing is a bit looser than on her studio albums, but it should be, considering the relaxed lilt of the band. Her piano and acoustic guitar work are, as usual, spotless, if not ascetic. I take exception only to her dulcimer work, which seems a bit hurried.
This quibble is minor in comparison with the disconcerting treatment she affords some of her most moving numbers. She seemingly tries to dismiss some of her older successes with either a joke or an unsettling arrangement. Her jarring joke in the middle of "The Last Time I Saw Richard" has been mentioned by more literate (and higher-paid) men than I as being the low point of the album, and I cannot but agree.
However, any album ought to be judged by its overall effectiveness, and on this score, Miles of Aisles rates high.
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