Release date: April 1970
Joni's third album overflows with remarkable images - "The thirty-third floor in the air"; "With your father's gun alone"; "The face of the conquered moon" - but one looms over all the others. It is the line in "Woodstock" that describes jet bombers "turning into butterflies above our nation". Rarely has both the terror and the idealism of the late 1960s been so powerfully wrought, the competing forces of the times so perfectly evoked. The image spoke to a nation and a generation, but it also holds a metaphorical significance for the 26-year-old woman who wrote and sang it. Ladies Of The Canyon is the sound of Mitchell cracking out of her chrysalis and starting to soar.
With Clouds, Mitchell had forged a productive niche. She was by now a rising star, firm friends with James Taylor, Carole King and the rest of that golden set forever associated with boom time in laid-back Laurel Canyon. She could easily have followed many of her contemporaries in pursuing that distinctive sound and sensibility for the foreseeable future. Instead, she was gripped by a restless urge to change and move forward. She talked about wanting her records to become more complex, more sophisticated, for them to draw from a wider palette of colours. Implicit in this was a clear desire to let the music, rather than just her voice and her words, carry a greater weight of meaning. She was not content to allow her work to be merely pretty or simply clever. It had to have guts, too.
Ladies Of The Canyon is, mostly, the record on which Mitchell delivers on all of those ambitions, although in some ways it remains a transitional album. While more decorated than Clouds, it is still relatively sparse- half the tracks feature just Mitchell's voice with her own solo instrumental accompaniment. Strings, additional vocals and horns are subtly deployed, but as a rough rule of thumb, it's whenever she chooses the piano as her primary conduit of expression that things start to get really interesting. The way her voice colludes with the instrument brings out astonishing new tonal shades, while her increased proficiency offers not just an increased range of textures, but a new way into her music. On songs such as "Willy", her love-struck hymn to Graham Nash, the music follows the whims of the heart. It ebbs and flows, with its own internal logic, unbound by any formal structure, her accompaniment subtly changing with each new line.
There are times when Ladies Of The Canyon goes so deep it becomes almost daunting to follow. The mysterious "Blue Boy" is a sad, strange and highly stylised tale of the impossibility of love, while "The Priest" is dense with a heavy symbolism. Mitchell picks out a John Fahey-like acoustic blues figure in a minor key, and there are echoes too of the early work of another former lover, Leonard Cohen, in the song's druggy undertow and its thick waves of imagery.
While Mitchell spends most of her time on Ladies Of The Canyon casting a line into deep, dark waters, a handful of tracks are content to paddle in more familiar streams. Revisiting the upstanding folk of her previous work, "Morning Morgantown" is almost indecently pretty, a storybook portrait of idealised smalltown life. All bright smiles, "coloured rings" and "tea and lemonade", it's not quite the sole occasion on which the album veers towards tweeness. Already recorded by Buffy Sainte-Marie and Tom Rush, "The Circle Game" traces the cycle of life, as a young boy becomes a man. Time is a carousel of "painted ponies", and the world promises "dragonflies", "cartwheels" and "falling stars". "The Circle Game" provides the album with a satisfyingly upbeat singalong ending, but its well-ordered craft and sweetness have more in common with what has come before than what lies ahead.
Likewise, the rather prim title track finds Mitchell at her most austere and her voice at its most bell-like, as though in conscious imitation ofJoan Baez. Introducing us to the titular ladies of Laurel Canyon - Trina, Annie and Estrella - she celebrates a wellspring of female creativity that manifests itself in a variety of forms. Whether making clothes, baking brownies, singing songs or rearing cats and children, they are all "pouring sunshine down the canyon". It's a well-meaning portrait of sisterhood and arty Los Angeles life that- if it didn't already- would soon sound like a parody.
Such moments of prettiness risk appearing rather tame next to the riches on offer elsewhere on one of Mitchell's landmark albums, but the contrast between the light and the shade ultimately makes for a beautifully rounded record. And in any case, these sugary songs provide us with a kind of farewell. She would rarely, if ever, sound so relatively uncomplicated, so sunny, again.
-Graeme Thomson, Uncut Magazine 2017
Composed and arranged by Joni Mitchell
Engineered and advised by Henry Lewy
Recorded at A&M Studios, Hollywood, California
Assisted on arrangements for Cello by Don Bagley
Cello played by Teressa Adams
Percussion by Milt Holland
Paul Horn on clarinet and flute
Jim Horn on Baritone Sax
Bop vocal by "The Saskatunes"
Circle Game Chorous by "The Lookout Mountain United Downstairs Choir"
Other vocals, guitar and piano by Joni Mitchell
All music published by Siquomb Pub. Co., 55 Liberty Street, New York, N.Y., 10005
Lyrics copyright by and reprinted with Siquomb's permission
Cover by Joni
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WoodstockChild69 on :
This is my all time favorite out of all of Joni's albums. I put on this album whenever I need to wind down after a stressful day at college, or when I need to escape from life for a little while in general. Joni takes the listener on a journey through Laurel Canyon as the way she sees it. Each of the songs are special, but my all time favorites are the title song, and my all time favorite, "Woodstock." The last song that I mentioned is extremely special to me personally, because through Joni's version, I re-discovered her friends, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (who also recorded this song). A year later, I would end up seeing Graham Nash in concert and meeting him! You see the themes of love and heartbreak in the song "Willy," and growing up in "The Circle Game," which we all can relate to, as well as Joni's experiences living in Laurel Canyon as portrayed in some of her other songs. She paints a beautiful picture of her California lifestyle here both literally and musically, and I also like the cover on this album as well. I think that this is Joni's finest masterpiece of work. I also love her pure, carefree voice on here. I will continue to listen to this album for many years to come. Thanks Joni!
merlinbear on :
Joni is 7 years older than I am. As a consequence of that difference she was just reaching her initial media exposure when I was at a most impressionable age. There are many great albums which I still enjoy from that impressionable period of '68 - '74 but most of them I listen to for reasons of nostalgia. Ladies of the Canyon (and all of Joni's subsequent albums) are still very alive for me. They are not "just" good memories, but they are still relevant to today for me. I think today's music is still trying to catch up with Joni's brilliant creative talent. And few managed to hold onto the integrity and sense of self that I sense from Joni. Salutations to a true master!
JuanM on :
Playing the HDCD on my laptop using windows media player, and it sounds amazing. I did a little testing to hear the difference between youtube, itunes previews, and yes, the HDCD wins! I am so glad that I read somewhere online saying that If you do not have a HDCD player, you can do what I did, and enjoy the music. Thanks to Joni Mitchell for the sweet, high, warm, and clear beautiful songs.
SteveC on :
I met this album in my childhood, when it was released. It has been a companion and a touchstone in my life ever since. These words are more a part of me now than any other words in literature.
LKay09 on :
This is the third Joni Mitchell album I purchased back in the early 1970's. By now, I was completely obsessed with all things Joni Mitchell and began covering some of her songs in local coffee houses in NYC. She is truly a legend!