[Review] Joni Mitchell (1968)

This introduction to the artistry of Joni Mitchell doesn’t contain any big hits, but it’s a big step all the same.

Kronomyth 1.0: The lullabies of ladybyrd.

Joni Mitchell’s first album, originally intended to be called Song to a Seagull (and sometimes still called that), might be the most perfect introduction of a solo artist in the history of pop music. Produced and partially inspired by David Crosby, the record is unfiltered, undiluted genius from beginning to end. The unusual guitar tunings, fluttering vocals and evocative poems fill the senses with the rich smells and sights of a freshly painted masterpiece. Joni would refine the approach over time, courting rock and jazz along the way, but she never made a more powerful album. The record is split between two halves that appear to be auto-biographical, reporting her experiences in New York City (side one) and California (side two). The references to sailing, for example, would seem to reflect her brief courtship with Crosby. Both Crosby and Mitchell shared an affinity for airy, elusive and complex melodies, but I couldn’t tell you what he added to the final shape and sound of Joni’s first album. Beyond a bit of tampering with acoustics, Crosby seems to have wisely gotten out of the way between the artist and her audience. The lightness of the music is misleading, of course; Mitchell can knock you over with a feather, and frequently does on this album. There are a few songs that involve multi-tracking or minimal accompaniment (“The Pirate of Penance,” “Night in the City”), but most are just Joni singing and playing guitar, which, it turns out, is enough to fill an entire world of music. You won’t find a famous song on here like “Both Sides Now” or “Big Yellow Taxi.” You won’t find a better Joni Mitchell album either, although you’ll encounter some as good (Blue, Court And Spark). The albums that followed never struck me in quite the same way, because, I suppose, you never forget the first time you fall in love with Joni Mitchell.

Original elpee version

Part One: I came to the city
A1. I Had A King (2:26)
A2. Michael From Mountains (3:38)
A3. Night In The City (3:35)
A4. Marcie (4:35)
A5. Nathan La Franeer (3:15)
Part Two: Out of the city and down to the seaside
B1. Sisotowbell Lane (4:00)
B2. The Dawntreader (4:50)
B3. The Pirate of Penance (2:40)
B4. Song To A Seagull (3:50)
B5. Cactus Tree (4:35)

All selections written by Joni Mitchell.

The Players

Joni Mitchell (vocals, piano, guitar, banshee) with Lee Keefer (banshee), Stephen Stills (bass on A3). Produced by David Crosby; engineered by Art Cryst.

The Pictures

Album cover art by Joni Mitchell. Cover photos by Mark Roth. Art direction by Ed Thrasher.

The Plastic

Released on mono and stereo elpee in March 1968 in the US and Canada (Reprise, R/RS 6293) {two-tone steamboat label} with gatefold cover.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in the US (Reprise, RS 6293) {brown steamboat label} with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (Reprise, P-8099R) with gatefold cover.
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Reprise, 6293-2).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in 1990 in Japan (Reprise, WPCP-3951).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in Germany (244/444 051).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in Germany (Reprise, 27441-2).

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